Young Senegalese football lovers flock to artificial turfThu, 20 Jul 2023 10:56:41 GMT

Cheikh Thiam passes the ball to one of his friends, a group of students and fellow football fans, and darts across an artificial pitch in Senegal’s capital Dakar.They have paid the equivalent of $60 to be there, about a third of the national monthly income, but it is an upgrade from the crowded beaches they used to play on.In football-mad Senegal — home of the international star Sadio Mane and whose national team are the reigning champions of Africa — most people only get to play on sand.But artificial pitches, often imported from China, are popping up around the capital, allowing young Senegalese to live out the dream of playing on proper pitches — albeit at a cost.”Many of us grew up playing only on sandy pitches,” Thiam told AFP, his orange bib drenched in sweat. Dozens of these fields have been built in Dakar over the last five years, and young people are flocking to them. A local business has sprouted up around the import of the materials from China.The fields are also an answer to a growing problem for football lovers: scarcity of free land to play on, as Dakar’s population booms.Cheers and chants erupt from Thiam’s field — called “Camp Nou” after Barcelona’s home stadium.The blue synthetic pitch is some thirty metres (100 feet) long and one of three artificial fields within the “Temple of Football”, a sports complex wedged between houses in a densely packed Dakar neighbourhood.- Alternative to sand – On the artificial pitch next door, nicknamed Old Trafford after Manchester United’s stadium, the clock is ticking. Mohamed Lamine Drame and his friends are struggling to make up a seven-goal deficit against their opponents.They lose this time, but are all smiles nonetheless. “It’s great to be back here, Drame, 23, said. “The pitch is even, which makes it easier to play and improve technically.” All around him, his friends take selfies to capture the memories and share them on social networks.The field’s owner, Pierre Daw, said artificial turf is easier to maintain than natural grass because it doesn’t need to be watered.He admits the rental fees are expensive — some pitches can cost up to 80,000 CFA per match.In Senegal, the average monthly income is around 100,000 CFA.But young people continue to pool their funds and flock to the fields.- Turf improves skills -Senegal’s first artificial turf stadiums were built 20 years ago, Mbaye Jacques Diop, a technical adviser at the sports ministry, told AFP.Today, there are at least 43 at the regional and departmental levels.That has helped professionalise the local championship, Demba Varore, a Senegalese sports journalist, said. “The players have more control of the ball, they can play quickly on the ground and move around more easily,” said Cire Dia, a former Senegalese international and current assistant coach of a Senegalese Ligue 1 team.”They improve technically and tactically,” he added.The benefits might already be feeding through to the national teams at all levels.Senegal, led by two-time African Player of the Year and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, won its first African Cup of Nations in 2021.The following year, Senegal won the pan-African local-league championship the African Nations Championship (CHAN), and this year the country’s youth teams won the equivalent tournaments in the under-20 and under-17 categories.