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Senegal Dominates French Scrabble Championships

  • Naomi Schwarz

Competitors from across the globe are in Senegal's capital, Dakar, for the Francophone World Scrabble Championships. Naomi Schwarz reports from the tournament that Senegal boasts some of the world's best players, despite a population with a 40 percent literacy rate where people mostly grow up speaking local African languages.

Hundreds of players, sitting in rows at long tables, listen intently as letters are called. One even brought a small lion doll as a lucky charm.

But these players are competing in the elite round of the Francophone World Scrabble Championships. They come from more than 20 French-speaking countries across five continents.

But the home team, from Senegal, is the one to beat.

Scrabble is a classic board game in which players compete by forming words from letter tiles.

At last year's world championship, Senegal won three out of the four top prizes.

This year, the Senegalese team is already off to a good start. Fifteen-year-old Mamadou Yauck has already clinched the juniors title for the "blitz" category, where players only have one minute to find their word.

He says he got off to a bad start, but was able to catch up in the later rounds.

Senegal, a small, impoverished country in West Africa, has won few world championships in other sports. That may be why the government has given so much support to Scrabble.

But a French official for the International Scrabble Federation, Hervé Bohbot, says that support may also be the reason Senegal is so good.

He says Senegal is one of the rare countries that really values Scrabble. He says the players are able to hone their skills at organized national tournaments and train with the government-sponsored Scrabble federation.

He says there are excellent players in other African countries, for instance, who never make it to international tournaments.

That is why another West African team, from Benin, says they are glad the tournament is in Africa this year. To save money, they traveled five days by bus to get here.

To welcome them and the other teams, popular Senegalese musician Pape Diouf performed a special Scrabble song.

The lyrics, in French and a local language, welcome them to the country of "teranga," a term that means good hospitality.

This is the second time the Francophone world championships are being held in Dakar. Morocco is the only other African nation to have hosted the tournament.

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