A tiny goal, no goalkeeper and a field the size of that of handball: in Côte d’Ivoire, some dream of seeing the popular maracana, a kind of six-a-side football born on campus fifty years ago, become an Olympic sport.
On a vacant lot, on the edge of the Ebrié lagoon in Abidjan, young people are dribbling in the sand, two tires serving as an improvised goal.
The reduced size of the pitch and the goal forces the players to combine technique and precision, enough to make the maracana, named after the famous stadium in Rio de Janeiro, ideal training for eleven-a-side football.
Among the youngest members of the Xenox club in Treichville, a “traditional” amateur football team from this district of Abidjan, training in a maracana is a must every week.
“When you want to teach a child to play football, the base for me is the maracana”, underlines Adama Ira who coaches a team of young people from Xenox.
“Young people work more on conservation and pressing techniques. When the child is used to supporting this pressure, the big field has no more secrets for him”, adds the president of the club Seydou Badjan Traoré.
While it is impossible to precisely date the invention of the maracana, experts in this popular sport believe that the rules were born in the 1970s on campuses in Côte d’Ivoire.
At the time, students had difficulty gathering enough friends and having suitable pitches for playing football.
“A Discipline Apart”
Constraint then gave rise to singular rules: “the maracana is played six against six, without a goalkeeper and on a field with dimensions similar to those of handball” sums up Charlemagne Bleu, president of the International Federation of this sport.
In the stands of the multipurpose hall of the Treichville Sports Park, the president proudly watches his national team train.
At the end of September in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire won for the eighth time – in nine editions – the Mara’CAN, the African Cup of Nations of maracana.
For Charlemagne Bleu, who works for greater recognition of the discipline, the stakes are high.
“The maracana is not football, it’s a separate discipline. Our goal is to make it an Olympic discipline,” he says.
According to him, 72 countries on four continents have a federation of this discipline.
Another particularity: it gives pride of place to the elders.
At the Mara’CAN, the flagship African competition, players must be between 35 and 45 years old, an age often synonymous with retirement from football.
“Young people (15-34 years old) have their national maracana championship, but generally they remain more attracted to football. There are more seniors because they can no longer play football so they turn to the maracana”, explains Charlemagne Blue.
Some high-level footballers thus offer themselves an extension of their career, like Issouf Koné, 40 years old.
“Like many of my teammates, I played high-level professional football, so the retraining wasn’t too difficult. We got back into the maracana so as not to lose track of sport and especially football. “explains the one who played his fourth Mara’CAN with the Ivorian national team.
“To be a professional in football today has become so difficult that I think the maracana is a platform that could help a lot of young people,” he adds.