For Balla Star (real name Saidou Colley), a little known up-and-coming traditional wrestler in the Gambian arena, there’s no better way out of poverty than wrestling.
Every day, he joins his peers to swarm across sand dunes to train in pursuit of his dream to become a rich wrestler.
“Wrestling is a serious job nowadays,” he tells The Chronicle. “I became a wrestler to support my family. I train so hard. Every day I wake up at 6.30 in the morning to go the beach and at 5pm to the gym.”
Balla’s passion for wrestling started when he was just 10 years old. “As a kid, there was no other sport I played or practiced with so much passion than wrestling,” he recalls. “I’ve given my whole life to wrestling. I don’t know anything else. My dream is to be a champion one day.”
Outside the wrestling arena, Balla works as a commercial driver. Occasionally, he works for opposition leader Mama Kandeh as a bodyguard. But he sees only one way to prosperity; wrestling.
“I have a dream that I’ll make it big in wrestling one day. Every day that I wake up, I work towards attaining that dream. It requires hard work, dedication and sacrifice.”
Balla has so far competed in just five bouts over the past two years, winning two of them. But he remains hopeful for the future. “I have the technique and the ability to be a champion. I just have to train harder, be more focused and leave everything in the hands of God.”
Mam Gibbie Sawaneh, a Gambian wrestling journalist describes Balla Star as one of the most enthusiastic young Gambian wrestlers. “His passion for the sport is unquestionable, Sawaneh says. “He has shown everyone that he is on a mission and he has a bright future.”
The popularity of wrestling is soaring in The Gambia thanks to large pots of prize money from sponsorship deals and endorsements from private businesses and companies. In his last fight, Hoyantaan, the current king of the arena earned a whooping D120,000 as prize money. Wrestlers like him are also revered and they enjoy celebrity status in the society.