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Senegal: Surfers say with immense potential, funding is needed

Surfing   -  
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Senegalese surfers raise doubts on future of Surfing in Africa amidst no qualifiers for Paris Olympics 2024, low funding and, out-of-reach visas.

Instead of training in the waves off his Senegal homeland, Chérif Fall was wistfully preferring to be in Puerto Rico, where the last surfing qualifying competition for the Paris Olympics ends on Saturday.

Senegal had nobody there to try and claim the last 14 spots for men and women.

“I started out as a surfer in Senegal. I've spent my entire career here. I've been Senegalese champion for 20 years now.” Fall says.

These will be the second Olympics to include surfers. Only 48 men and women will earn the right to compete in Tahiti, the French Polynesian island in the South Pacific. Surfers can qualify either by ranking highly enough or getting top spots in certain competitions, like the one in Puerto Rico, but none are easy avenues for Senegalese surfers.

Senegal is on the westernmost tip of Africa on the Atlantic Ocean, and surfing is part of daily life for many, with easy access to good waves including in the capital, Dakar. Yet, once athletes reach a certain level it's hard to go further. Travel to compete abroad is expensive, visas can be hard to secure, and there is little government investment, say those in the sport.

Even with financial backing from a huge sponsor, 27-year-old Fall still can't afford proper coaching and doesn't enter enough competitions to earn points to help his global ranking.

Surfers and coaches in Senegal say the athletes have immense potential but the sport needs more investment for training facilities, equipment and coaching. To compete on the world stage, the surfers say they need the basics such as a daily training environment with a knowledgeable coach and quality equipment.

Senegal's government did pay to send surfers to Olympic qualifiers in the United States, where they reached the quarterfinals, and El Salvador, where they were were knocked out in the first round. The Senegalese Surfing Federation says it would have cost approximately $30,000 to send six surfers and three coaches to the qualifier in Puerto Rico.

The Sports Ministry didn’t respond to requests by The Associated Press for comment. Souley Mbengué, the Secretary-General of the Senegalese Surf Federation, said they were going to "rise to the challenges of 2026, the Youth Olympic Games to be held in Senegal. Since the announcement of the competition to be held in Senegal, we have put in place a programme based on training, and above all what will enable us to perform well when the time comes.”

Senegal has been thrown into turmoil as elections meant for February were controversially delayed by the president, sparking deadly protests. Elections have been proposed for June but it's unclear when the president, whose term ends in April, will step down.

In an attempt to get surfers on the continent more visibility, for the first time the African Surfing Federation is launching a surf tour.

Starting in April, there will be six competitions beginning in Ghana and ending in Senegal in December. Other countries slated to host events are Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and Madagascar.

Oumar Seye, the African Surfing Federation President who's spearheading the initiative, says it’s a chance for athletes to make money, find sponsors, and get valuable ranking points. He adds sponsors in Europe and Africa have expressed interest in funding the event.

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