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African Soccer Celebrates 50 Years

  • Naomi Schwarz

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the African Football Confederation, Africa's official soccer body. The sport is usually associated with boys and men, but Naomi Schwarz visited a soccer school in Senegal's capital, Dakar and talked with one woman who loves the sport.

It is a windy day at a hard-packed sandy field near the seaside village of Ngor, on the outskirts of Dakar.

Maam Samba Guèye runs herself through drills on the sidelines as the men's team practices on the field. Her practice ended an hour earlier.

The enthusiastic 22-year-old midfielder says she has always been and continues to be dedicated to her sport, even in the face of her father's disapproval.

"My mother always supported me so I could play soccer. But my father, well, he refuses. He always says that girls do not play ball," she said.

Her coach, Djibril Guèye, says unfortunately such attitudes in Senegal are not rare.

"Almost all the girls have the same problem. People do not want girls to go to the field. But there are some who are understanding, and girl's soccer is developing here," he said.

Female soccer has recently developed in Africa, with major international tournaments attracting lots of media attention.

The Ngor women's team is training for the women's national Senegalese championship, where they will play against star Senegalese teams like the Gazelles and the Eagles.

Few members of the team, who range in age from 15 to their early twenties, are in school.

Maam Samba Guèye only completed elementary school and does not have a job.

"In the mornings, I prepare lunch for my family: Thiebudien, yassa, soupe au kandia," she said, referring to several typical Senegalese dishes.

In the afternoon, she trains with her team. If they win the women's championship, the players will share the prize money. But for now, she looks to her parents and other family members for support.

The money in female soccer is nothing compared to money some African stars have made going to Europe, like Ivorian Didier Drogba who plays for one the world's richest teams, Chelsea.

Many of the young men who go to Europe seeking soccer riches alter their birth certificates so they can appear to be stronger for their age and have more potential.

Compact and wiry, Guèye has done the same - her identity card says she is 19.

"I did a judgment," she says, referring to a process that allowed Senegalese people to officially change their birth date. This was often done for students who need to repeat a grade, and in Guèye's case, she says, so she could continue to play soccer as well.

Diama Guèye, a former teammate, who stopped playing in order to get a job, says it is a shame so many African players try to get to Europe, but she can understand why.

"If the best African players are going to play in Africa instead, we need to be able to support them here," she said.

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