It is ingrained in every neighborhood of every city I have seen so far. Especially young men are so interested in playing and watching futball. I asked my neighbor Djia Djia what his favorite thing in the whole world is and he said "to watch the futball highlights on tele." Most cities have formal or informal stadiums and many players organized into leagues to fill these stadiums. At any time of day where the temperature is bearable you will see kids in the streets playing futball with anything from an actual ball to a rolled up wad of cloth. And most often three out of four are wearing futball jerseys. In a country where pre-made clothing is much more expensive, one takes notice of such things. These are only the informal observations anyone can make walking around Senegal. Apparently there are some much more serious themes behind their love for the sport.
Many young men train so hard to play futball at a high level. If someone is running or exercising it is safe to assume they're doing it for futball. For many this effort is in the hope that they will make something out of themselves as a professional athlete. This has taken many of them out of the workforce and away from household duties. In many cases this prolongs the poverty cycle for those families. Many people think they can make the Senegalese national team which in 2002 made the World Cup and defeated France to earn a spot in the quarter finals. It may be hard for many Americans to imagine this as anything but a marginal and trivial cultural trend but I recently found out something tragic from two of our Wolof teachers. Not long ago a group of hundreds of past-prime idealistic futball players realized that they would not be contributing members of Senegalese society. They had not gone to school, picked up a trade, or had any sellable skills. They all got into fishing boats (which are more like large canoes here) and tried to navigate to Portugal or Spain. They all died during this pursuit of a better life. The massive amounts of deaths from these journeys drew a lot of attention to this problem for a short time. This has brought new meaning to the futball obsession for me. The obsession is beyond an athletic release for them. So many men my age feel that they can become professionals. In a country where so many families are struggling to put good food on the table, it is hard for me to find any kind of legitimacy in their fantasies.
I have not seen this sport practiced nearly as much but informal and sometimes impromptu matches spring up all over the place. This is a huge national sport and the most prominent figures are printed onto many popular products. The season has not started yet but I will surely see the extent of its allure soon.
Not too many people play or enjoy watching basketball. At least this has been my experience so far. It seems like more of a hobby sport in many cities. There is a school called the Seeds Academy near the Theis training center where students learn typical curriculum and get good formal teaching but go there for free since they are so talented in basketball. Some students have even been drafted by the NBA. They come from all over Senegal. I don't have too much more information than that but some Peace Corps volunteers do work there so I will find out more soon.
So far I have only witnessed this as a sport for tourists and Rastafarians. Many Senegalese cannot swim since the only place to learn is in really choppy oceans and life vests are hard to find. I would love to do some work with surfing programs in the future so it may be an uphill battle. The waves here are beautiful, especially in Mboro. Apparently the only surfing can be found in Dakar however.
Many people do not run for sport. They just call it exercise or training for futball. There is a marathon in Tamba every year though so there may be hope for me yet. I do plan on running consistently when I am at site so this could possibly create some interest in Mboro. Time will tell.
For now this in-exhaustive and poorly researched report will serve as my baseline. I hope to learn more about new and culturally exclusive sports as time goes on. I also hope to report more about how these sports reflect and idealize their culture.