The Senegalese athlete whose name is best known to Americans was a product of the Turbulent '20s christened Louis Phal but identified in the history books of prizefighting as Battling Siki, the man who won the light-heavyweight championship of the world in 1922. Thereafter the record of Senegal's athletes in Western sport has been minimal, but it may not remain so for long. "The Senegalese have the finest undeveloped talent in the world," a famous coach said recently. "All they need is instruction." They are beginning to get it, as the government has taken an increasingly strong hand in sport, including the hiring of 100 scholastic coaches—there were only 20 prior to independence. Formerly a French overseas territory in westernmost Africa and the focal point of France's African colonies, Senegal is now a struggling republic with a population of 3,500,000. Soccer is the national sport, volleyball is popular, track has the same kind of small but intense following that it does everywhere and basketball (above) is making inroads, but lack of first-class coaching continues to hamper development of the last two. Where Senegal may surprise the world is in the wrestling ring. A favorite Senegalese native sport is lutte, which draws big crowds every Saturday in Dakar. It begins, like Japanese sumo, with interminable ceremony. Consisting mostly of singing, dancing, boasting and the hurling of insults to the rising beat of drums, it ends with a sudden flash of wrestling action in which the loser need only be knocked off his feet, not pinned. The Senegalese have sent wrestlers to Russia and Turkey to find out if they can adapt to the Olympic style in time for the 1968 Games. Early reports are encouraging.
To the beat of drums, amateur lutte wrestlers perform a traditional dance designed to show off their muscles and intimidate their foes prior to an important match inaugurating a new arena in Rufisque.
Exquisitely gowned Senegalese women, like the one above, have recently become commonplace sights at sports events. At right, two small soccer clubs, one from the fishing village of Ouakam and the other from the island of Gorée, meet in Dakar's Pare des Sports.
An outdoor court in Dakar is the scene of a basketball scrimmage between two teams good enough to have uniforms—not many do—but hardly of championship caliber. Senegal's basketball players are fast and have excellent reflexes, but their instinct is still to kick a ball, not pass it.
December 19, 1966
Official timers get set for the finish of the 200 meters during the national championships in Dakar. Above, Mansour Dia, holder of both the Senegal and African hop-step-and-jump titles, limbers up. In the background is Dakar's tallest building, a new 17-story apartment house.