Sunday 30 December 2012

Voodoo, graveyards and impotency: Is witchcraft rife in African football?

Voodoo, graveyards and impotency. Alex Lawson delves into the strange world of witchcraft in football

Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson's wife
claimed to have used 'evil powers'
When Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson was released by Blackpool last year he probably believed he had reached the nadir of his patchy career in English football. However, claims by his wife earlier this year that she had used witchcraft to affect his loss of form towards the end of his time at the Tangerines, as well as his alleged loss of form in the bedroom, which left the veteran of two World Cups more embarrassed than a secret cross-dresser outed at a team building away day. 

Kingson's wife Adelaide Tawiah, who had originally claimed on Nigerian TV to have used "evil powers" to affect his form, has since retracted the statement, claiming she was possessed in the broadcast from the Synagogue Church of All Nations at the time. The incident has raised an oft occurring question - how rife is witchcraft in African football?

In several African nations, most notably Ghana and Kenya, witchdoctors are not an uncommon sight at a football match while teams have been known to spend the night before a big match in a graveyard to channel what is termed 'Juju magic'. 

Former Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic blasted his players for using black magic in a leaked document following the African Cup of Nations earlier this year. The Serbian said that some players had used "black power to destroy themselves" which had created deep divisions in the squad and caused the Black Stars to be sent crashing out of the competition in a shock defeat to Zambia at the semi-final stage. 

Ghanian Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi claimed the team was deeply fractured. "During the competition we observed that some players played to achieve personal fame, prominence and excellence to the detriment of the team," he said.  
Former Ghana midfielder Laryea Kingston, who had been accused of using black magic by fans, claimed that his teammates often "put sin in their shoes" to appease Juju forces but he was not involved in the practice. Mohammed Abu, who won the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations on home soil with Ghana said he had seen players deliberately miss penalties for fear that if they scores their family will die. "Everyone is asking for help but this evil, this devil is deceiving you," he said, adding that a witchdoctor once made him drink a 'lucky' drink which was in fact Schnapps and he was forced to play drunk.

But the phenomenon is not just confined to Ghana. Earlier this year, Kenyan side Shikaadabu blamed their 6-0 drubbing by the fantastically-named Hippo Youngsters on their archrivals Vimwanga who they claimed had bewitched their goalkeeper. Moreover, Kingstone FC threatened to abandon a match with Mombasa region side Super Eagles after claiming they found their opponents "smearing themselves in ndumba (voodoo) before the match", according to manager Said Mwinyi. The claims were not entertained by league officials and the debate continues to rage in the coastal region of the East African country. 

The issue of witchcraft in football will ultimately only escalate if it becomes increasingly evident players are altering the outcome of matches deliberately to satisfy evil spirits they believe will do them harm. Those who do express these beliefs are likely to incur the wrath of their managers, league officials and fans and are likely to suppress their activities. 

In a game that has the fine margins of luck, pressure and scrutiny that football has, players are striving to influence the game through whatever means possible. Richard Kingson, meanwhile, may have to set up a meeting with Pelé about a shipment of those little blue pills he recommended.

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