Football and Politics

Remarkable how the fortunes of Senegal’s National Eleven run in tandem with the political temperature in the country.

Ten years ago, the Lions de Teranga, as they are known, were at the top of their game. In the 2002 World Cup (for compatriots – that’s the one Holland failed to qualify for…) they played the curtain raiser against reigning world champions and former colonial power France – and beat them, 1-0.


Football success and a political honeymoon, two years after Senegalese voters had sent the ruling Parti Socialiste and its government packing. “Sopi” (change) had made a grand entrance in national politics in the shape of veteran opposition politician and at the time gloriously popular Abdoulaye Wade.

He claimed the National Eleven’s football victory as his own, never missing an opportunity to e photographed with the heroes.


Fast forward five years. Wade gets easily re-elected and is concentrating on a tried and tested way to keep himself into power: constitutional change. As usual, he gets his way.

Meanwhile, the economy starts a prolonged slump along with the president’s popularity.

And what about the Lions de Teranga? Well, they’re still OK in the African Nations Cup (ending second) but it’s downhill after that. The lowest point? October 11th 2008, when they failed to win their home qualifying match for the Africa Nations Cup against…tiny Gambia. Outraged fans did some spontaneous reconstruction work in the national stadium before moving on to the nearby Football Federation’s headquarters (it’s around the corner from where I live) and thoroughly smashing the place up.


2012. The presidential bid for a third term is well on course and there is precious little anyone can do about it. Elections are on the 26th of this month and you won’t catch anyone (including this blogger) making any predictions about the results. Protests against Wade’s third term bid rock cities and towns across the land, the economy tanks a little more as tourists stay away and investors think twice about putting their money in a country that looks increasingly wobbly.

“Give us something to dream about.” That was the message to the National Eleven from the political class just before they got on the plane to Equatorial Guinea, were they were among the favourites. There was the presidential photo opportunity and there was of course the promise of presidential money if they’d perform well.

Well like the economy, like the political situation and like most people’s mood – the Lion de Teranga were disastrously bad. They were also monumentally disinterested in doing their nation proud. Three defeats in the group stages and back home they went – some of them not even bothering to make a stop in Dakar to say hello to the few fans the team had left. This time, the windows of the Foot Federation stayed in place. People have other things to riot about.

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