Marseille’s ex-football boss Diouf eyes mayor job
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A decade ago Pape Diouf won fame by becoming the first black president of a first-tier European football club. He is now looking to make history again by becoming the first black mayor of a major French city.
Pape Diouf boasts an impressive CV that has included stints as a journalist, sports agent and president of a major French football club. The former Olympique de Marseille (OM) boss now hopes to score a victory at the ballot box.
Following weeks of suspense, Pape Diouf confirmed on Monday that he was joining the race to become the next mayor of Marseille, France’s second-largest city.
“I am becoming a candidate after lengthy consideration. Vying for the mayoral post is no child’s game,” he told reporters in the Mediterranean metropolis. “[Marseille] deserves better than the images of violence and poverty that it evokes.”
After turning down offers to join the Socialist Party’s mayoral campaign, the 62-year-old says he will be an independent in the March 23 ballot. His nominees for Marseille city council include respected scholars, as well as defectors from the Green Party and centrists.
“My goal is not to steal votes from one camp or another,” he said of his decision to go solo. “The only thing that matters to me is shaking up Marseille politics.”
Over 36,000 mayoral offices will be up for grabs when French voters head to polling stations this spring, but the focus of the two-round election will be big cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
On the rise
Diouf was born in Chad of Senegalese parents in 1951, and first immigrated to France at the age of 18. He landed in Marseille, adopting the city as his own.
His father, a World War Two veteran, sent his son to France to receive military training. But Diouf had other ambitions. After completing political science studies in the upscale southern city of Aix-en-Provence, he joined the newspaper La Marseillaise.
A sports reporter covering the hometown football and basketball teams, he was the only black journalist on staff. “It was obvious people were shocked. I was often asked to show my press card. For some, being black meant you couldn’t possibly write well,” he recently told the French weekly Jeune Afrique.
His reporter job gave him close access to footballers, and eventually he seized the opportunity to become a sports agent. He would flourish as a businessman, signing some of the best talent around, including Marcel Desailly, William Gallas, Didier Drogba and Samir Nasri. In 2004, his company posted a turnover of over 3.4 million euros.
‘I'm the only black president’
His talent caught the interest of the football club Olympique de Marseille (OM), who in 2004 recruited him as their general manager. Less than one year later, Diouf was promoted to the football club’s top job.
His time at the head of OM was somewhat turbulent. During his five-year tenure he failed to win a single Ligue 1 championship title and was strongly criticised for allowing the Ivorian star Didier Drogba to leave for Chelsea. However, the club remained a competitive squad, participating in three Champions League tournaments during that time.
In 2008 he lamented that he was the only black president of a European football club. “It’s a painful fact, that reflects European societies' rejection of minorities, especially in France,” he said.
Diouf has remained busy since leaving OM in 2009. He launched a journalism school in Marseille the following year alongside French television personality Jean-Pierre Foucault. In 2013 he published a book tracing his voyage from Africa to the top of France’s football world.
Public opinion firms have not had enough time to measure Diouf chances of winning, but his run for Marseille's city hall promises to ruffle some feathers. With his ambitions turned to politics, he hopes to write a new chapter in his life, and perhaps add a twist to French politics.