Senegal is one of the world's poorest countries (17th to be exact), where the average annual income is $980 according to the World Bank's latest figures. This is increasingly concerning as their major industry, fishing, is declining due to over-fishing and intense competition from Asia. But there is a booming industry which is primed for growth and provides investment opportunities in Senegal, and I would say most people wouldn't be able to guess what it is. That industry is wrestling, and it is starting to grow much more popular than football (soccer) in the country. It used to be a pastime of the farmers in the region, who could only work on farming during the rainy season. When they came to the cities to work, they found there was quite an audience ready to watch them wrestle, a traditional African sport which has transformed to take on elements of martial arts and boxing. Now, a winner of a big Lutte (as the Senegalese call it) match can make up to 100 million West African CFA francs ($205,000)! Some bigger names will even make a lot just by participating.
To just give an insight to how popular this is, a single match could attract 80,000 people. You could see why many companies are so interested in getting their brands into the ring, especially when you add the fact that these matches are now shown on television screens which are viewed by millions arcross the country. Originally the telecommunication companies just broadcast the games, but now they are one of the main sponsors of the event. One estimate of the sponsorship money was between a half and one billion CFA francs ($1m-2m) per year. The future looks bright for the companies and for wrestling in Senegal. However there may be economic and societal benefits that you cannot see on the surface.
As the country becomes increasingly poor, crime rates have risen. However wrestling is one area that gives hope to many people around the country. A typical day for a wrestler means getting up at 5 in the morning, running 20km, and training throughout the day. Then in the evening comes wrestling school, where the wrestlers hone their skills with hundreds of other aspiring athletes. In a country where half the country is unemployed, crime and fighting is a huge problem. Aboubracry Ba, one of Senegal's best-known sports journalists recently told BBC News about the issue. "Wrestling has been able to reduce crime and delinquency in the suburbs. Young people now train hard and they can earn money from their work." It is an interesting path to a career and an interesting business opportunity, but it's an opportunity Senegal is glad to have.