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Why African fans love European football

Saliou’s exploits in the inter-district team are a reminder that there is a local football competition which ignites the passions and loyalties of Senegalese fans.

It just isn’t the official league championship.

The navétanes championships take their name from the Wolof “nawet”, referring to the rainy season, and it’s primarily during these summer months that they take place.

Since the 1950s, local teams have competed against one another to defend the honour and pride of the neighbourhood or village, and the navétanes matches often attract huge crowds.

Much is at stake: violent altercations and accusations of occult activity among fans are often reported, making the competition resemble Senegal’s other hugely popular sport of wrestling known for being saturated in magico-religious practices.

The popularity of the navétanes championships and the national wrestling arena demonstrate that there’s a large appetite for local sports competitions.

The high demand for European football comes in addition to, not instead of, sport at the local level.

Ultimately, they represent two very different things.

The navétanes championships, like wrestling, offer a visceral experience of sporting competition which is rooted in complex local meanings, regional loyalties and historical rivalries.

In contrast, the viewing of European football matches on TV allows African fans to partake in the aspirational dreams exported worldwide by the Premier League or the Champions League

Whether as a consumer, like Uwarugaba, or as a player, in the case of Saliou “Tevez”, there is a strong desire to participate in the football economy at the highest level.

In this context, the local league championships are neither here nor there. T

hey lack the passionate support of the navétanes teams, but are also unable to pay competitive salaries necessary to attract the best players.

In a sense, the popularity of European football in Africa is a direct consequence of neoliberal economic transformations, the liberalisation of media and the influx of satellite broadcasting into the African market.

The commodification and marketing of European football to an African audience generates profits for telecommunications companies based in the global North, thus exacerbating inequalities and restricting the growth potential of the local game.

But, as pervasive as the globalisation of football may be, there is no denying the genuine passion it inspires among its African fans, and the creative ways in which the global game is incorporated into local narratives.

 

By Mark Hann. This article was first published in The Conversation.

 

Ed: Does this apply to Zimbabwe as well?

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