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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 12:55 GMT
Wrestling captivates Niger
Wrestlers in Maradi
The championship is a highlight in Niger's calendar

Niger's 25th wrestling championship is in full swing in the city of Maradi, 700km east of Niamey, the capital.

Over 25,000 people, including guests from neighbouring Nigeria and Benin, have been attending the yearly tournament.

They have been supporting 80 pre-selected wrestlers from the eight regions of the country.

Over 10 days, the wrestlers fight for a golden sword and the handsome sum of 2m CFA francs (about $3,000) which will be given to the winner on Sunday.

Bewitched

Candidates for the award use various techniques and strategies to meet their ends.

While young athletes display modern physical training techniques such as judo, other wrestlers resort to African black magic like bori - which calls on spirits and supernatural power - to bewitch their opponents and defeat them.

The overall atmosphere has been of thunderous drumbeats and frenzy.

Given the cultural and economic importance of the wrestling championship in Niger, the government has allocated a special budget of some 50m CFA francs (about $82,000) for the event.

Extra holiday

The proceedings were opened last week by Niger Minister of Sports and Culture Abdou Labo.

Because of the feverish enthusiasm for wrestling competitions in Niger, the government has declared a special holiday for students and their teachers, from primary to high schools, in Maradi and neighbouring villages.

Tuareg tribesman
Many live in the Niger desert

While traders and food sellers have been displaying large radio and televisions sets in public places like markets and garages, civil servants have been taking small radio sets to their offices.

The growing infatuation with the wrestling championship has led the authorities in Niger to warn taxi drivers and ordinary people to be extra careful on the streets across the country as drivers and pedestrians have their ears glued to their radio sets tuned to state radio Voix du Sahel, which carries the games live.

The final fight, on Sunday, will involve only two remaining wrestlers who have not lost a single fight since the start of the competition.

See also:

29 Jan 01 | Africa
11 Sep 02 | Africa
04 Sep 02 | Africa
09 Aug 02 | Africa
06 Jul 02 | Country profiles
25 Feb 02 | Africa
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