Assaults, bag snatching, brawls and other acts of violent crime have become commonplace near the stadiums in Dakar where Senegalese wrestling matches are held. Traditional wrestling is tied with football as the most popular sport in Senegal. But young supporters, who have organised themselves into fan clubs, are becoming increasingly violent and wreaking havoc in the neighbourhoods near the major stadiums. We spoke to one Dakar resident who is concerned about this growing trend.
Several videos appeared on social media between January 13 and 15. They had all been filmed on January 13 near the Léopold Sédar Senghor stadium in Dakar, Senegal during a wrestling match between fighters Modou Lô and Balla Gaye 2.
Senegalese fighting, also known as la lutte or làmb, is a traditional form of wrestling where the fighters are allowed to hit or punch their opponents.
In the video below, you can see a number of young people running down the street. Some are carrying wooden batons. They start beating a man who falls on the ground, hitting him with the rods and kicking him (0'20).
In a second video (below) you can see a group of young people jogging in the street. One of the two lunges towards a woman on the side of the street and seems to try to snatch something from her (0’10).
Finally, in the last video, a man seems to try to rip something from the hands of a passenger sitting in the back of a taxi (starting at 0’19'), before other young people join in to help.
"People who live near the stadium avoid going out when there is a match on"
Abdoulahi Ndour lives in the Parcelles neighbourhood, which is located just to the north of the Léopold Sédar Senghor stadium.
These videos were filmed in my neighbourhood. This kind of violence is really common near the stadium. It often happens in broad daylight, before or after a wrestling match.
I’ve actually witnessed scenes like this. I once saw a group of people that were walking together and yelling, before some of them broke off to grab someone’s mobile phone while brandishing a knife.
The perpetrators of these crimes are, for the most part, young people between the ages of 13 and 20 years old. Some of them are just delinquents, while others are actually fans of the wrestlers. Sometimes fights break out between groups of fans.
In Senegal, lots of young people are unemployed, which can explain why some end up turning to crime. The wrestling matches draw huge crowds, so it is an opportunity for these young people. The result is that the people who live near the stadium avoid going out when there is a match going on. There is a general atmosphere of panic.
It’s not a new problem but we are starting to get frustrated that it is still going on. Even if there is a police presence near the stadium, they have limited resources. I would like the government to find a solution.
"These wrestling matches are drawing a different crowd than before"
When contacted by the France 24 Observers team, Thierno Kâ, the vice president of the national wrestling federation, the Comité national de gestion de la lutte, admitted that there is a problem with the fans, especially those who hang out near the two main wrestling venues, Léopold Sédar Senghor stadium or the National Arena.
The violence has grown in the past decade. I think that it is linked to the fact that these wrestling matches are drawing a different crowd than before. Before, it was really only people who loved wrestling who came to the stadium every afternoon to watch the matches.
But in recent years, fan clubs have sprung up. These groups are generally made up of the supporters of one particular wrestler.
A lot of them aren’t really lovers of wrestling as a sport. These fans often leave the stadium when their wrestler has finished his match. Others don’t even go into the stadium. Some are just little idiots who take advantage of crowds to steal stuff or assault people.
Inside the stadiums, we don’t have issues with crime or violence. All of it happens outside the stadiums. It’s really an issue of public order, which is the responsibility of the police: we need the police to reconsider their strategy to stop this from happening.
To try to put a stop to this violence, a group of wrestling devotees formed a collective called the "Groupe Bakh " in 2010.
“The goal is to calm tensions by raising awareness amongst young people, the fan clubs and the wrestling clubs,” said the organisation’s president, Massamba Diéye. “For example, we recently organised a football tournament bringing together kids from different neighbourhoods to try and establish friendship between these young people.”
Groupe Bakh was created in 2010 as a way to combat the violence and crime that takes place during wrestling matches. (Photo by Massamba Diéye).
Thierno Kâ, the vice president of the national wrestling federation, emphasised that this problem isn’t unique to wrestling. Similar waves of crime and violence occur on the margins of the navétanes, which is an amateur football tournament held between different neighbourhoods all across the country. Our Observer Ndour agrees that this is an issue as well. However, the Dakar residents who we interviewed told us that the crowds were larger outside of the wrestling matches than the football matches and this resulted in a more serious problem with violence.
This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).