Migrant Senegalese teenager wrestling for Canary Islands future

VALVERDE, Spain (Reuters) – Amid cheers from the crowd, 13-year-old Senegalese migrant Cheik Ndaa tricks his opponent into falling over and wins his first tournament in Lucha Canaria, a traditional form of wrestling in Spain’s Canary Islands.

Ndaa, who arrived on a wooden fishing boat in July, has picked up the sport quickly thanks to its similarity with a form of wrestling he practised in his birth place Dakar.

“Wrestling has been my passion since I lived in Senegal.. it is in my heart,” Ndaa said.

He attends a local school and trains twice a week with 11 other migrants at a club on El Hierro, the archipelago’s smallest island.

His talent for fighting could help him to a better life in Spain, said his coach, Beneino Machin, a veteran wrestler.

“They leave their families behind seeking another life, other horizons,” the 75-year-old Machin said. “I have a special affection for them.”

Canarian wrestling is practised in a sand circle and wrestlers must make their opponents touch the sand with any part of their bodies except their feet.

Ndaa arrived at the port of La Restinga following a journey in which many died. He did not speak Spanish and was one of 5,000 unaccompanied minors among a record 34,000 African migrants to arrive on the archipelago this year.

Eladio Merida, a cattle farmer on the island, heard that migrant minors were practising something similar to Lucha Canaria.

He asked authorities for permission to invite them to Concepcion Wrestling Club training sessions to bolster an activity which young locals are abandoning for other sports such as football.

Antonio Arancibia, coordinator of the minors’ centre, said those who do Canarian wrestling stand a better chance of being among the 50 minors who can be accommodated on the island, Arancibia said.

“More than that is complicated because the island is very small, resources are limited,” he said.

Merida is talking with other employers to find jobs for the minors once they turn 18 in fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Ndaa is keen to stay.

“I always wanted to be a wrestling champion,” he said.

(Reporting by Corina Pons, Horaci Garcia and Borja Suarez; Editing by Charlie Devereux and Ed Osmond)

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