Rtl today – Scrabble junkies: Senegalese players return after virus hiatus


“Wesh,” wesh “,” wads “,” ska “,” fol “… the hunt was on for this elusive word in French which would increase bonus points and unlock the first prize.

Dozens of Scrabble players jousted in leafy schoolyards at the end of last month in the Senegalese capital, delighted and relieved to be able to compete in real life for the first time in months.

It’s hard to underestimate the popularity of Scrabble in this West African country.

Senegal has produced several world champions in the French version of the pun and its national team has been crowned African champions several times.

But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the hobby.

The restrictions forced Scrabble clubs across the country to close and players had to get their fix on cellphones or tablets.

Scrabble was in the doldrums,” said veteran player Madicke Fall, 65.

Despite a slight increase in coronavirus cases, players have resumed meeting in person.

Many Senegalese scrabblers who first met online gathered at the event in the town of Bambilor, about 40 kilometers outside (25 miles) of Dakar.

Thirty-two players signed up for the competition but 52 showed up, sending Malick Ndiagne, president of the Senegalese Scrabble Federation, into a panicked search for more boards.

Unlike English, the ‘W’ and the ‘K’ are the rarest letters in French. In Scrabble, their tiles carry the most points and are the most coveted by top players, but also carry more risk of point deduction if they cannot be used.

“Playing in person is more difficult,” he told AFP, explaining that players cannot stealthily look at dictionaries during supervised competitions.

“My wife is laughing”

Ahmed Kane, a trader from Dakar, sipped sweet tea in the shade of the trees in the schoolyard.

He has won several online tournaments, but this time he was knocked out in the quarterfinals.

“Scrabble allows me to speak better and learn French,” he says, explaining the appeal of the game. He speaks Senegal’s dominant language, Wolof, with his friends and family.

French, although being the official language, is only mastered by a minority of Senegalese. But the nation of 16 million people has produced gaming luminaries nonetheless.

Senegalese Ndongo Samba Sylla is famous for a three-time doubles world champion, his last victory dates back to 2016.

It also won the World Blitz Title in 2002, a version of the game in which contestants only have a few minutes to think about each move.

In May, Senegal finished fourth by winning Cameroon in the 2021 Scrabble Championship for Francophone Africa.

In a country where, according to the World Bank, around 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, few are drawn to Scrabble because of the financial rewards.

Sheikh Anta Dianka, who won the tournament organized at the school, received a small sum of money and few dictionaries in earnings.

At a similar tournament the following week, contestant Mohammed Sy, 40, told AFP that “Scrabble is barely paying anything.”

“Sometimes my wife laughs at me and says she prefers Scrabble fishing,” he said with a smile.

“At least one fisherman is bringing home some fish.”

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