Popular Gambian wrestler, Ali Mbengu, widely known as “Mille Franc” (Thousand Franc) died last Friday when his boat capsized in the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Italy.
His death which was confirmed to AFP by his coach Pateh Nying follows that of the popular goalkeeper of Gambia’s national women’s football team who drowned in the same circumstances in October.
“His plan was to cross to Italy by boat,” Nying said while recounting how the wrestler had left for Libya in 2014 to prepare for the journey.
One of the survivors called his brother and informed him about the incident. The caller told the brother that only 10 people survived when the boat capsized on the high seas.
“One of the survivors called his brother and informed him about the incident. The caller told the brother that only 10 people survived when the boat capsized on the high seas,” he added.
Mille Franc is said to have made his debut in early 2012, working under Coach Nying of Club Serrekunda Gome Saboppa, in the outskirts of the Gambia’s capital, Banjul.
A spokesman for the Gambia Wrestling Federation, Matarr Saine, spoke of the grief of the whole wrestling community.
“He was one of the most disciplined wrestlers in the country and he was really committed to the sport,” Saine told AFP on Wednesday night.
Some of the country’s finest wrestlers have resettled in Europe after boarding makeshift boats from Libya to Italy.
“We are discouraging young people, especially wrestlers, from embarking on this risky journey. It is claiming the lives of our sportsmen and women who can contribute positively to national development,” Matarr Saine advised.
Wrestling is hugely popular in the Gambia and in neighbouring Senegal, where bouts steeped in traditional rituals are watched by hundreds of spectators.