Suzan Baller

Susann Baller
Humboldt-University Berlin

Sports and the performance of masculinities in urban Senegal

The paper considers sports and the production of images of masculinity in urban Senegal around the turn of the twenty-first century. Based on two examples, the Senegalese wrestling star Mouhamed Ndao Tyson and the national soccer team, the Lions de la Teranga (Lions of Hospitality), it focuses on how young people create socially successful idols in the context of economic crises. The first example of Tyson represents a self-made-man who plays with local wrestling traditions and the re-imagination of the American dream. The second example refers to an ideal of masculinity that takes part in the re-memorizing of Senegalese history. The performances of these sportsmen produce icons of youth culture which embody, and give rise to, ever transforming images of masculinity. The construction of these images is complex and multifarious; it is reflected in sporting competitions, the songs and dances of the supporters, in sport reports, and letters to the editor. It relates the spectacle within and around the arena of sports to the production of discourses which evoke not only the strength and prowess of the sportsmen, but also praises their noble character, intelligence and discipline. And finally, it produces and reproduces symbols of success and reconsiders the imagined landscape of the Senegalese past and presence. Interestingly, these icons of masculinity are both desired and contested; they stand for success, but a fragile success, as it depends on their sporting achievements. They show the features of heroes, but also bear failure and misfortune. In the everyday life of urban youths, these icons of sports are frequently an illusion, being inaccessible and transitory. However, as soon as the heroes fail, young people are quick to embrace new stars who represent new performances and new symbols, resulting in new icons of masculinity.

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