Senegalese wrestling is a very popular traditional sport in Senegal, especially in the Sine-Saloum and Casamance regions. It is also practiced in Gambia. Initially an amateur sport, Senegalese wrestling has become a professional sport that attracts more and more young athletes as well as spectators, and wrestlers’ fees amount to tens of millions of CFA francs.
Extremely popular in this West African country, the origins of Senegalese wrestling go back to the ceremonies celebrating the end of the harvest in the Serer and Diola ethnic groups. Every evening, the inhabitants of a given village would meet in the middle of the square, where the men, encouraged by the cheers of the women, would test each other. In the past, wrestling was done without hitting, but today the discipline has evolved. In addition to having become a business, Senegalese wrestling includes striking. Wrestlers fight with their bare hands and sometimes with blood.
A tradition that has become a real business
Wrestling is surrounded by numerous mystical rituals, which are all songs of bravery supposed to galvanise the wrestlers, but also dances. This is followed by ceremonies to ward off bad luck before each fight. During the fights that take place in the stadium, the fighters, carried by the songs of the griots, follow a long and meticulous ritual, during which they coat their entire body with « magic liquid ». They also tie gris-gris to their waist, around their wrists and biceps or ankles.
Before each confrontation, the wrestler engages in tousse (dancing) or bakk, which consists of singing his prowess in order to intimidate his opponent and seduce his audience, while dancing to the rhythm of the drums. During fights, when a fighter knocks down his opponent, the cries of the supporters riveted to their television sets rise from the houses, as during the matches of the national football team, the only discipline capable of competing with the call of the arena in the hearts of the Senegalese. Life practically comes to a halt during the big matches, which are announced weeks or even months in advance by posters and advertising spots.
Thus, with time and success, the fights become more and more important, and the wrestlers’ fees soar. From 50,000 FCFA, a wrestler’s fee can rise to 150 million FCFA after two or three years, depending on the athlete’s talent and/or popularity. In wrestling without striking, which is still practised in Senegal, the winner of the tournament can take with him livestock, cereals and other goods at stake, in addition to a sum of money of up to 5 million FCFA. As for wrestling, there are direct victories with fees after each fight.
Real financial arrangements
If wrestling has reached a certain level, it is largely thanks to the backers. These people are called promoters. They are the financiers of wrestling, which is managed by a provisional committee that has been delegated power by the Senegalese Ministry of Sports. This is the CNG (National Management Committee) of wrestling, whose headquarters are located at the Leopold Senghor Stadium. It is in these premises that the fights are regularised. The wrestlers’ fees are recorded there before the match. The wrestler pockets half of the fee at the time of assembly and the balance after the fight. Some wrestlers who break the rules may lose part of their fee, up to half of the remainder. These measures aim to calm the ardour of the behemoths who may indulge in dangerous practices (brawling before the fight, insults, aggression, etc.). A delay can also lead to the wrestler’s financial withholding.
To mount a fight, each promoter has his own strategy. Some of them, who are liquid, can afford to finance their gala with their own funds and invite sponsors. Others, on the other hand, are obliged to have the guarantee of their various sponsors before thinking of setting up a wrestling match, especially when it comes to so-called VIP fighters whose individual fees can be around 150 million FCFA. An organisation that requires nearly 500 million FCFA. Big bundles of money. The revenue from the sale of tickets to the stadium completes the earnings of the promoter who takes enormous risks, as he can lose tens of millions in a single evening.
« The Senegalese love wrestling, and each generation has its champion, with a style, a liveliness, or a tradition that has changed a bit… Today, sponsors have deviated a bit from the tradition, by making wrestlers wear tracksuits for example, whereas we had the traditional outfits. It’s the marketing side of wrestling, but without a sponsor you can’t reach fees of 50, 80, 100 million CFA francs! « The former Senegalese wrestler Hyacinthe Ndiaye, alias Manga 2, a colossus weighing more than 130 kg, was a terror in his time, having received the prestigious title of « King of the Arena » in 1984.
Wrestling, in its traditional origins, is registered as a national sport in Senegal and is being professionalised at an international level thanks to significant investments. Despite its evolution, it continues to thrill generations. Today, there are many young people who take up this sport which feeds them well. A wrestler can earn three years of a minister’s salary in a single bout