Teqball, a new game making its way in Senegal

A recent discipline, based on soccer and played on a curved table, teqball is gaining more and more followers in…

A recent discipline, based on soccer and played on a curved table, teqball is gaining more and more followers in Sadio Mane’s country.This early January, the sky is often gloomy in Dakar. The cold has finally set in. The suburbs of the Senegalese capital are wrapped in a layer of clouds that do not let the sunlight through.

For Mame Cheikh Fam and Souleymane Diagne, it is then difficult to perspire abundantly. In the large courtyard of an uninhabited house, they play a game of teqball, tossing a white and orange ball back and forth between them as they make technical moves.

We are in Sam Notaire, in the Guediawaye district, the stronghold of Jappo Teqball Club. “It was an abandoned house. After obtaining permission from the owner, we cleaned and landscaped the yard. We’ve been practicing there since 2019 Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. We only rest on the weekends. When we arrive, we warm up, do some physical exercises and then practice teqball,” Fam, the number one player in Senegal explains.

Teqball, or table football, is in fashion. It was created in Hungary in 2012 by Gábor Borsányi, a former professional soccer player, and Viktor Huszár, a computer scientist. It is also a hobby for many active and retired football stars like Brazilian Ronaldinho.

“It is played on different surfaces such as sand, acrylic or indoors with two players (single) or four (double), regardless of gender,” the International Teqball Federation (FITEQ) says on its website.

“I was a football player. I once played for Jaraaf de Dakar in small categories. I also played in the ‘navetanes’ (neighborhood championship) with the Association Sportive et Culturelle Jappo Sam. In November 2019, I discovered teqball at the Malibu beach of Guediawaye where there was a tournament. I signed up with a friend and we won,” Mame Cheikh, 19 years old recalls.

Since then, he has developed a passion for this sport which, combined with “some business,” allows him to “support himself.” This athlete “having stopped studying in the final year of high school because of football” has three titles of Senegalese champion in 2019, 2020 and 2021 (single, doubles and mixed doubles).

“I also participated in two World Championships. From 8 to 11 December 2021, in Poland, I signed three victories in as many games in the group stage. Unfortunately, I was eliminated in the round of 16. In Germany, from November 23 to 27, 2022, I passed the first round with two wins and one loss. After that, I won my first round matches but I fell in the round of 16,” he says.

Two failures that the right-hander justifies by the lack of competition: “I only take part in the Senegalese and World Championships. On the other hand, Western players play regularly. Every month, a city hosts a round. They increase their points to move up in the world ranking. The fact that I can’t be there, due to a lack of visa or support, penalizes me. Even though I have to do my best against the best in the world, their fitness and experience always make a difference.”

The last FITEQ world ranking, dominated by the Romanian Apor Gyorgydeak (75,654 points in 20 events), places Mame Cheikh Fam in 16th place with 6,608 points collected in only 4 competitions. The Senegalese is the second African in this ranking behind the Tunisian Yassine Sahli, 11th in the world with 13,962 points taken in 15 tournaments. “My wish is to live in Europe. By staying here, it will be difficult to participate in all these competitions. Last year, ASPTT Mulhouse, a French club, wanted to hire me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a visa,” the Senegalese flag bearer says.

Traveling, an uphill struggle

The conditions to travel legally to the West are very strict nowadays with new visa policies. “I am now an international teqball referee. In 2020, I underwent theoretical and practical training on the Fiteq platform. Afterwards, I passed an exam that entitles me to a certificate. I was invited to officiate at the World Championship in 2021, in Poland. Since I didn’t have a visa, I couldn’t go,” says Souleymane Diagne, 29, who wants to show his skills on the international scene.

“In order to get a visa, the Minister of Sports has to write to his colleague in Foreign Affairs, who in turn contacts the relevant embassy. Four-year Olympic visas for high-level Senegalese athletes and members of constant delegations would have solved the problem. Without that, it’s impossible to plan anything,” says Modou Gueye Seck, the Development Officer of the Senegalese Teqball Association (ASTEQ).

In addition, he points to the status of the sport at the local level: “On January 14, 2021, Matar Ba, the former Minister of Sports, wrote us a letter to congratulate us and tell us that he has given instructions for a National Committee for the promotion of teqball to be established. We have been waiting for two years. We have contacted the new Minister of Sports, Yankhoba Diatara. We would like to meet him to ask him to materialize the commitment of his predecessor. To this end, we have sent him a letter so far unanswered.

“A national promotion committee,” says Seck, “is a kind of federation. But it is the minister who chooses the leaders. There are no elections. With this status, Senegalese teqball will be taken into account in the budget planning of the Department of Sports. In the meantime, we are trying to support all the expenses for the competitions (air tickets, accommodation, catering …).”

If these difficulties are overcome, “we can live from teqball. It all depends on the level of performance. In an international competition, money is distributed to the players according to their results. There is a bonus for each round. There is also sponsorship,” says Mame Cheikh Fam, not without mentioning some specificities of this sport that is gaining ground in the world.

“The teqball, he says, combines technical and physical. You have to be agile with the ball and know how to move well. The matches are made up of 12-point sets won by the first player to reach that total. The game is over if one of the opponents dominates the first two sets. In case of a tie, a third set will be played to break the tie. A maximum of three touches is allowed before returning the ball. It is forbidden to touch the ball or return it with the same body part twice in a row. It was difficult at first, but I’ve learned the rules and made great progress in the game. I want to be helped to represent Senegal with dignity at the international level.”

“There are two referees in teqball: the principal and the assistant. Any principal can be an assistant and vice versa. It is the head referee who assigns each a role. The principal faces the table. The assistant, who is on the other side, must be seated or standing. The latter, with a scoreboard, notes the evolution of the score,” Mr. Diagne added.

In Senegal, a hopeful dynamic has been set in motion. “There are 54 teqball clubs in 11 regions of the country. We continue to receive applications for membership. However, we need suitable tables and we do not have any more. Those received from the Fiteq have all been distributed,” Modou Gueye Seck said.

According to the Senegalese teqball development officer, this craze stems from “the organization of demonstration tournaments during navétanes matches, at the beach, in some public places. That’s how teqball started to interest many people. We want it to be played everywhere in Senegal through Sports and Cultural Associations, and clubs affiliated to the Senegalese Football Federation (FSF).’

The strategic plan of ASTEQ, covering the period 2022-2026, is based on three pillars: the development of school teqball, women’s teqball and para-teqball with the inclusion of people with reduced mobility.

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