Of Juju, African teams and World Cup

For decades, several African teams have reportedly kept sangomas on the payroll as special advisors who would give spiritual guidance or empower the players with magic powers.

A famous case happened in 1974 when Zaire – now called DRC – travelled to Germany for the World Cup with a team of sangomas.

The central Africans were making their first appearance at the tournament and wanted a lasting impression.

How the sangomas helped the team is unknown, but the Leopards lost all three group matches by a combined scoreline of 14-0.

Similar incidents were recorded in the following years, and the use of juju became part and parcel of football on the continent.

With the game intensely intertwined with black magic, not grassroots development, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) banned traditional healers from associating with teams.

The move was made during the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and was deemed an official attempt to separate football and black magic.

But just a month before the tournament, around 300 sangomas sacrificed an ox at Soccer City stadium in a “traditional good-luck ceremony.”

The spiritualists claimed they “invoked the spirits of African ancestors to usher in their wisdom and energy in setting the scene of what was to follow” – the World Cup.

Despite this widespread use of black magic, African teams have often been on the receiving end of some brutal unfounded accusations.

Two years ago, former France international Emmanuel Petit claimed that Senegal, who were debutants, used juju to beat them at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

But the result only exposed the defending champions’ complacency, as they bowed out of the tournament in the group stage.

The former Arsenal midfielder said on Paris-based radio RMC Sport: “Witch doctors probably contributed to that mysterious game.

“Let me tell you a story. One year before the 2002 World Cup, I was at a beach in France and met a Senegalese hawker.

“He walked up to me and said: ‘Look, the World Cup that will be played in 12 months, France will meet Senegal, and Senegal will win by 1-0, because our witch doctors are very strong. You will see.’ I wasn’t sure of anything until it truly happened a year later.”

At the 2018 World Cup, a story broke out of a Nigerian fan, who was barred from taking a live chicken into the stadium.

The report described the incident as another case of juju, but nothing of the sort ever happened, with the Nigerian Football Supporters Club dismissing the story as a hoax.


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