Sports icon's death awakens Senegal to coronavirus threat

Dakar (AFP) –


Senegal is in mourning following the death of one of its foremost sporting icons from coronavirus, as the government struggles to impose health restrictions in the West African state.

Former Olympique de Marseille president Pape Diouf died late Tuesday aged 68 in the capital Dakar after contracting COVID-19.

The first ever black president of a top European football club, a onetime journalist, was idolised in his native Senegal.

Diouf was the first to die from coronavirus in the country.

His death was a wake-up call.

Adama Ndione, vice president of an Olympique de Marseille fan club in Senegal, said he had "spilled a lot of tears" over his hero's death.

"He was a Senegalese, a perfect example of success in everything he did, an example for us," Ndione said.

Tributes have poured in for Diouf from Senegalese dignitaries, with President Macky Sall calling him an "eminence grise of football" and the singer Youssou Ndour saying he was a "formidable and multi-dimensional man".

Diouf's death has put a human face on what has tended to be a distant concern in Senegal.

The former French colony has recorded 190 coronavirus infections to date, and as in other poor African states, there are fears that the government is ill-equipped for a large outbreak.

Last week, Sall announced a state of emergency in order to curb coronavirus, imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He has also banned large gatherings, mosque prayers and shut schools.

But the government has struggled to enforce some of these measures, with police sometimes having to disperse crowds of worshippers.

Senegalese are debating whether the government should impose stricter measures as the virus spreads, even though many workers in the informal sector are suffering as sales plummet.

Local government officials, such as the mayor of Dakar's working-class Medina district, complain about widespread disregard for the anti-virus measures.

"Pape's death raises awareness through its strong resonance," psychologist Serigne Mor Mbaye was quoted as saying in local media.

"We saw him as omnipotent, at an inaccessible level," he added.

Adama Ndione, of the Marseille fan club, said people had not wanted to believe in the threat posed by coronavirus, but would now start to fear it.