Modern wrestling arena to revive Senegal’s time-honoured sport

Standing majestically in a once abandoned patch of marshland on the eastern edge of the Senegalese capital, the National Wrestling Arena is an attraction for both visitors and locals.

The new iconic facility, built by the Sixth Engineering Company Limited of China’s Hunan Construction Engineering Group (HNCEG) in Dakar, was officially handed over to local authorities at the end of July.

At the handover ceremony, visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping passed the “golden key” of the project to his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall, and the two leaders enjoyed a show of traditional Senegalese wrestling.

The project was described as a mirage when it began in April 2016, with significant difficulties standing in the way, including hostile terrain and weather, skill gaps and unavailability of quality construction materials like steel rods.

“Draining the marshlands during the rainy season was a Herculean task. The foundation had to be constructed afresh on several occasions after collapsing due to heavy rains,” said Li Zhao, a supervisor with HNCEG.

Delivering construction materials to the marshland was also difficult, Li said, adding that Chinese technicians also grappled with language barriers and cultural conflicts.

Yet they forged on and their fortitude paid off. The biggest wrestling arena in Africa was completed on schedule, featuring an exemplary combination of modern engineering and human ingenuity.

Covering an area of 18 000 square metres and able to accommodate some 20 000 spectators, the landmark wrestling facility is set to revive a sport that has been an integral part of Senegal’s rich culture for the last century.

For decades, Senegal has been associated with soccer prowess, and few outsiders are familiar with its wrestling tradition.

During a recent visit to the arena, Senegalese Sports Minister Matar Ba said it has fulfilled the dreams of his compatriots for a return of the golden era when the sport embodied patriotism, unity and cohesion.

“The sports dreams and wrestling dreams of the Senegalese people have taken root in the land with the launch of this modern arena,” Ba said.

Both locals and visitors are excited about the modern wrestling facility, which features a harmonious blend of world-class architecture and interior design.

Xue Lichun, a lead technical expert on the wrestling arena project, said its implementation adhered to the best engineering practices around the world.

“The project’s implementation strictly adhered to guidelines set out by local regulatory agencies. We procured high-quality construction materials, and local inspectors were on standby to ensure no rules were flouted,” Xue said.

The project was also a training course. About 3 000 local employees have learned practical skills to maintain the arena by themselves in the future, he added.

Amadou Cisse, a 53-year-old local technician who participated in the project, said without China’s advanced technology and skills, it would be impossible for the arena to open to the public on time.

“I am very impressed by the fact that the Chinese are very generous to impart technical knowledge to us. At least, now we have a modern facility where our wrestling giants will prove their mettle,” Cisse said.

Besides the arena, local residents also enjoyed other benefits, as the Chinese enterprise funded the construction of roads, repaired broken sewers and renovated community halls and schools in the vicinity.

“Although China and Senegal are far apart from each other, many cooperation projects have brought tangible benefits to the local people and brought the hearts of the two peoples closer,” said Chinese Ambassador to Senegal Zhang Xun.

The arena is just one example of the deepening friendship and booming cooperation between China and Senegal. Other instances include the National Grand Theater and the Museum of Black Civilization.

When the night falls, the brightly lit National Wrestling Arena shines like a pearl.

“Every time I saw local people happily taking photos with the brand new arena, my eyes couldn’t help getting wet, and I always got emotional,” said Li, the HNCEG supervisor.