In Africa, football rhymes with maraboutage

Do African players and teams rely on mystical doping to improve their performance? What do we think of it in the capitals of Cameroon and Senegal, two of the representatives of French-speaking Africa at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar 2022? Reportage.
The World Cup frenzy has already taken over the streets of the Cameroonian capital. In Yaoundé, it is not uncommon to come across men and women in the colors of the national jersey – and even in conversations, it is still the event in question.

In this Central African country where football is almost a religion that unleashes passions, its underwear also raises questions. And for good reason: in Cameroon, suspicions of maraboutage (use of practices relating to magic, editor’s note) weigh on the practice of this discipline.

In a district of the suburbs of Yaoundé, we find the young Atangana Marcel. Aged 19, he has been a resident of a football academy for two years created by a former member of the Indomitable Lions (the national team, editor’s note) of Cameroon. Like every Tuesday afternoon, it’s championship day for Marcel and his teammates.

The young man with a skinny physique has his habits before leaving the family home. He ties around his waist two ropes to which he attributes magical virtues. “The first is for me to be more skilful in front of the goalkeeper. As a striker, the club counts on me. And if I don’t score, it’s not good for us. The second protects me from serious injuries,” he explains. The scene takes place in the presence of his father, who is also the team’s coach. “It was he who gave them to me,” Marcel admitted as we accompanied him to the stadium.

Magic formulas

Yoff is one of the largest communes in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It is here that Bâ Diagne settled after a career as a footballer which led him, in turn, to Sudan and Mauritania. He remembers that before his departure for the foreigner, the club in which he played had an appointed marabout. “Each match day before, he gathered us around him and gave us instructions, he confides. For example, “not to greet our opponents with your hand, to tread the playing area with one foot rather than another or to recite a few sentences before the start of a match”, he admits.

The link with the marabout must be preserved even if one evolves outside, he further specifies: a situation requiring his intervention quickly arrived. “When I found myself for a long time on the sidelines of my club in Mauritania. I informed my marabout and after a few consultations, I was able to rejoin the team until the end of the season,” recalls the Senegalese player.

African reality and “Pogba Gate”

In Yaoundé the match is over. Particularly in good shape during the regulation ninety minutes of the match, Marcel scored two goals, thus ensuring a precious victory for his team which retains the lead in the championship. For the young striker, things went pretty well. No question of being choosy about his performance and that of the team: “I am very happy with the match and with my teammates. We did not steal our victory, we deserved it.

At the mention of the ropes and this recourse to the supernatural, Marcel immediately retorts: “We must not be mistaken, our opponents were also prepared.” And to point the finger in the direction of a man sitting on the stands: “Over there, it is their marabout. He attended the match.

Whether in Yaoundé or Dakar, maraboutage in football is a reality. A tradition rooted in customs. At the international level, we remember the “Pogba Gate” which splashed the French midfielder of Juventus of Turin Paul Pogba, accused by his brother of having resorted to practices of maraboutage on his teammate of the team of France, Kylian Mbappe.

Between mystical doping and cheating

And football fans, how do they appreciate this unnatural link between the world of football and maraboutage practices? Aren’t these practices to be placed in the same category as doping? We made an appointment with the Protestant chaplain of Johnson College, a denominational establishment in the city of Yaoundé. For the past year, Pastor Paul Emmanuel Ekoue has been the spiritual guide for all the college sports teams.

This Wednesday, he has an appointment with the footballers. Pastoral collar around the neck, he takes his role very seriously. “Talent alone is not enough to play football,” he hammers to his audience. “God’s protection and support are necessary for the explosion of the potential that we possess, and this all the more so as the temptations are numerous.” Wouldn’t his role also be similar to that of a marabout? His answer is sharp: “Not at all! The practices of the marabout dialogue with darkness. They undermine the beauty of the game and counterfeit performance.” And to further clarify: “My role for me consists solely of accompanying all these young people to place their trust in God and to be models of probity in the practice of their respective sporting discipline.”

Regarding the maraboutage that plagues African football, the spiritual companion does not deny the phenomenon and even strongly condemns it: “It’s mystical dope. Teams that resort to maraboutage should be punished just as much as footballers who dope themselves by consuming prohibited products,” he said. An opinion shared by Benoît, one of the college footballers: “It’s cheating, football is built on rules that all stakeholders must respect.” In his eyes, it is essential that “the teams compete on equal terms, otherwise there is no longer this little uncertainty that makes a match so exciting”, he explains.

A cultural practice

In Dakar, where Amara runs a newsstand and spends the day with her nose buried in the Senegalese and international press, the story is different. He is of the opinion that the phenomenon of maraboutage in African football should not cause such a stir: “Even our religious culture gives an important place to the marabout. It is therefore a cultural practice that has nothing to do with cheating,” he says.

Thus, for him, it is necessary to establish a distinction between the consumption of doping products and the practice of maraboutage. “It’s not the same thing, one is part of the habits and customs, while the other reveals a desire to increase its performance tenfold in order to take advantage of its opponents,” he says.

The use of these practices is therefore not unanimous. In a world where competition is fierce and counter-performance unwelcome, they still seem to have many years ahead of them.

Source: Protest Info

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In Africa, football rhymes with maraboutage – Christian News – Christian Journal