National pride and culture drive Senegal’s football success

Known for its 'teranga' (hospitality), Senegal is making news globally and regionally for its dynamic sports, arts, and culture scenes
From Senegal to the world
From Senegal to the world
Photo: Dan Mullan (Getty Images)
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On Feb. 4, the Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) claimed another triumph by lifting the African Nations Champions after beating Algeria in a penalty shootout.

They now become the first African country to simultaneously hold the continent’s two most prestigious prizes as they beat another African nation, Egypt, in a penalty shootout to claim the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). This is along with 2019’s west African Nations Cup, 2022’s Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, and a series of youth events.

The ‘Lions of Teranga’ are representing Senegal well

Known for its Teranga, which means hospitality, and praised for its cultural vibrancy—its dynamic sports, arts, and culture scenes are where Senegal is increasingly making its presence felt across Africa and globally. And at the vanguard of these successes are national pride and culture.

In terms of sports, one of the football successes is the men’s team’s coach, Aliou Cissé. The former midfielder had a celebrated career across 15 years for international leagues. He represented his country on 35 occasions. In 2002 he was one of two players who missed a penalty in the African Cup of Nations final shootout against Cameroon. That defeat would serve as an important checkpoint on his professional journey. Cissé ensured that the setback did not define him, remembering his “unfinished business” with the national team and returning to continue his quest for continental dominance as head coach.

A seamless transition to coaching followed. An opportunity with Senegal’s youth teams preceded his appointment as the national team manager in 2015. An important strategy is that Senegal has a proud history of appointing local coaches, a rarity for big African teams at the time. And Cissé would prove how valuable it can be when a coach understands the cultural heartbeat of the team and country.

The decision to back Cissé is evidence of the best side of Senegal, a country that values community over short-term gains. The federation’s decision to give Cissé another shot at AFCON success reflects the value of Teranga. It is fitting that the Senegalese national team is dubbed the Lions of Teranga.

The team’s players have helped create a more global and outward-looking brand. One of the team’s superstars, Sadio Mané, has often said he would trade all his honors at the club level for an Africa Cup of Nations win with Senegal. And it is not just on the field where this team is charting a new course.

It was the culmination of the entire team’s sacrifice, vision, and admiration for their country. But it wasn’t the team’s victory alone. There are many moving parts behind the scenes that facilitated this momentous event.

Senegal is investing more in sports

Senegal’s Ministry of Sports, which has given their football federation autonomy to make independent decisions, acted as a critical facilitator on the journey to greatness. The ministry has focused on important long-term work, such as building and refurbishing stadiums, while Senegal’s federation continued to back their coach.

The Senegalese national football team and government are likely to mutually benefit from their cooperation in the long run. One such example is driving regional tourism. The best way the government can attract tourists from across the African continent to their new international football stadium is to showcase the new African champions. As a result of the support they receive from the Senegalese Football Federation, they have African football’s best team on home soil.

Senegal’s progress as a nation has not been confined to the football field. The country’s stadium refurbishment drive comes ahead of the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar. This will generate tourism opportunities for the country, which is moving forward on several fronts.

With an economy growing at positive growth rates per annum coupled with efforts to position itself as a cultural and creative capital, brand Senegal is headed towards a positive trajectory to capitalize on these positive gains. The country is poised to be a leader for west Africa and even continental Africa in terms of economic growth.

And the cultural and creative sector, as a result of the sports ecosystem, can drive additional growth. Infrastructure projects related to sports stadium refurbishments and construction, such as the Diamniadio Olympic Stadium and the Dakar Arena, are launchpads to boost economic activity. The investment in sports stadiums and development structures will showcase Senegal’s investment in state-of-the-art infrastructure.

The $2 billion futuristic Diamniadio Lake City, influenced by Senegal’s indigenous culture and landscape, is slated to feature entertainment facilities, an industrial park, and state ministries. These positive wins will make the country an attractive destination driving intra-African tourism, which should spur economic growth.

In 2022, as President Macky Sall took over as chairperson of the African Union (AU), he spoke about how Léopold Sédar Senghor, the once president of Senegal, had a strong pan-African ideology and vision. The spirit of Teranga is needed to lead the continent towards a regionally and economically connected Africa, and Senegal is well-positioned to take the reins.

And the Lions of Teranga’s victories are viewed not just as victories for Senegal but for the entire African continent. And perhaps a World Cup victory may not be too far behind.