Oliver G. Becker

Voodoo in the penalty box:
Football and magic in Africa

Oliver G. Becker
München: Beck, 2010
198 S.
ISBN 978-3-406-60131-6

After a concise explanation of terms and a brief history of football in Africa, Oliver Becker immediately entices the reader to participate in the research for his documentary "Kick the Lion" (2006). African and European coaches, managers, players, fans, healers and sorcerers all get a chance to speak. The interviewees assume that almost all players practise some form of magic rites, even though it may not always be mentioned. Even the qualification of African teams for the 2006 World Cup is said to have been influenced by magic. Interviews with the healer Tuwani, the sorcerer Dumezulu, a Mozambican sorcerer and a medium from Ghana confirm: African teams travel to magicians like other teams go to training camps.

Becker describes the often bizarre rituals in a nigh ethnological fashion but without any value judgement. In the end, conversations with African coaches and football officials lead to remarkable questions, such as whether magic should be accepted as an aspect of African tradition, or rather not (as the Ghanaian Benjamine Koufie argues). And Sunday Burton Kayuni in Dar es Salaam agrees: "There are some aspects of our culture that don't hold any advantages for us... But this will take time." Tanzanian Charles Mkwasa, on the other hand, refers to the lack of direction suffered by African players that are recruited by European teams and that have to play there without the spiritual protection that magic offers.

The uncommented reporting of such thought-provoking statements can perhaps be regarded as indirect approval on the part of the author. He apparently rejects sympathetic comparisons with the occasional "superstitions" of European players as paternalistic since they belittle the role of magic in Africa. "Neither African cultures, where magic plays an important and authentic part, nor African football needs this."

Oliver G. Becker:
Voodoo im Strafraum: Fußball und Magie in Afrika
(Voodoo in the penalty box: Football and magic in Africa)

Transported on the very first page to a Dar es Salaam graveyard at night, the reader is entitled to expect a sensational story – but the following chapter puts an abrupt end to this expectation.More ...