Africa, magic and football, the curse of Ivory Coast

A football spell of white magic very common in Western Africa: make the opponent team get stung by invisible bee

The American writer Fritz Leiber published his novel Smoke Ghost in 1941, a metaphor that explains how a superstition, if strongly believed, can become real. We think about Africa as (probably) the most superstitious continent. Of course is a stereotype, but as the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, stereotypes aren’t necessarily false, they just tell a single story. Reality is much more complex.

A research made by the online magazine Quartz, showed that basically every cover of books about Africa had a picture of an acacia at sunset. Some of them had a gazelle in addition, but that tree, according to the publishers, summed up an entire continent in just one picture. Another stereotype is magic, recapped by the white colonizers with the term “juju”, that gathered together all the beliefs, the traditions and the rituals. The difference with western superstitions is that the so called juju is banned, mostly to give a more secular image.

Not everybody cares much of the opinion of the rest of the world, for example the football team of Ivory Coast, victim of a spell for more than twenty years. The “Elephants” won the African Cup in 1992 against Ghana, at the end of an infinite sequence of penalties, 11-10 (0-0 after the extra time). A whole Country was celebrating the triumph, except for the sorcerers of Akradio, an isolated small village not so far from Abidjan.

The cover of an Ivorian sport magazine: “should we ask Akradio for forgiveness?”

The minister of Sport René Diby and the football Federation contacted those sorcerers to help the team with white magic: spells to make the players run like antelopes, summoning of bees to distract the rivals with unexplained stings, double defenders to exhaust the opponent strikers. Only problem, the wizards don’t receive any payment for their work and decide to get revenge. They enact a curse on the team, which works pretty well.

Ivory Coast is one of the best National team of Africa, with champions who played in Europe like the Tourè brothers (Arsenal, Barcelona, Manchester City), Gervinho (Roma, Arsenal), Konè (Psv, Sevilla, Everton) and especially Drogba, winner of the Champion’s League with Chelsea. Somehow, they feel the psychological pressure and they are unable to win for more than twenty years.

Ivory Coast is again the football champion of Africa in 2015

At the World Cups of 2006, 2010 and 2014 they are a possible surprise, but they never went beyond the firs tournament. If in the first two edition they are eliminated by well esteemed teams like Argentina, Holland, Brazil and Portugal, in 2014 they end their group even behind Greece.

That’s the end of the darkest cicle. Two years earlier Ivory Coast had the great opportunity to break the spell in the final of the African Cup, played against the underdogs of Zambia, who won after penalties against all odds. That’s too much, so the Federation and the coach Hervé Renard (who comes from France, motherland of Enlightenment) decide to go back to Akradio, apologize to the sorcerers and pay the debt. It’s just a series of coincidences, but at the first occasion Ivory Coast is the champion of Africa. It’s 2015 and once again the final is solved at penalties, once again with Ghana. (Continues…)


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