(JollofNews) – The Gambia’s sporting community Thursday mourned a popular young wrestler who drowned in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Italy, following the recent death of a top women’s footballer in similar circumstances.
Ali Mbengu, 22, died last Friday when his boat capsized, his coach Pateh Nying told AFP, as the country’s wrestling federation begged young people to think twice before making the perilous crossing.
Wrestling is hugely popular in the Gambia and in neighbouring Senegal, where bouts steeped in traditional rituals are watched by hundreds of spectators.
Coach Nying recounted how the wrestler, also known as “Mille Franc” (Thousand Franc), had left for Libya in 2014. Many migrants get stuck in the unstable north African nation, working to pay off debts before finally setting sail.
“His plan was to cross to Italy by boat,” Nying said.
“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.”
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.
But Saine said not only was the journey by boat incredibly dangerous, but the Gambia needed its best and brightest to stay.
“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,” he said.
The news of Mille Franc’s death came less than a week after the announcement that the goalkeeper of the Gambia’s national women’s football team had also died crossing the Mediterranean.
Fatim Jawara, is believed to have been just 19.