Are marabouts and bad spells common among athletes?

As footballer Paul Pogba finds himself at the heart of a story of attempted extortion, the case sheds light on the use of witchcraft in sport.

The affair of the marabout by Paul Pogba is it an isolated incident or does it reflect more widespread practices than one might think? While the midfielder of the France team admitted having called on a marabout – in order to protect himself from injuries and not to harm the other Blue Kylian Mbappé, he assures, contrary to the accusations of his brother – it seems that these superstitions are more common than one would imagine in the world of sport.

Irrational Beliefs

This is not the first time that this type of phenomenon has occurred. We can cite the Zimbabwean Bruce Grobbelaar – the former Liverpool goalkeeper in the 80s – who had spilled his own urine on the goal posts before a match to ensure victory for his team. Or Michel Denisot, who revealed that he had paid a marabout when he was president of PSG just before a Champions League match.

Practices originating in Africa – from Benin for voodoo and West Africa for superstitions linked to Islam – which crossed the Mediterranean and were partly adopted in France. The sociologist of science and beliefs Romy Sauvayre is thus not surprised by the proliferation of these cases.

“We are witnessing, in the general population, a strong comeback of all these types of beliefs that could be described as irrational,” she explains to

40% of people under 35

The French population seems to be particularly receptive to the occult sciences. According to an Ifop poll for Current wife made in 2020, nearly six out of ten French men and women believe in at least one parascience, from astrology to the lines of the hand, including clairvoyance, numerology, fortune-telling or witchcraft. A phenomenon that has been on the rise for twenty years.

Some beliefs are widely shared. Louise Juissan, researcher at Ifop and author of this survey, even indicates on BFMTV that 40% of people under 35 believe in witchcraft. For Romy Sauvayre, teacher-researcher at the University of Clermont-Auvergne and at the CNRS, in all these practices and beliefs there is often a question of hope.

“We call on a marabout to heal, bring back the loved one, ensure success or, on the contrary, bring bad luck to a rival. But it is in the same register as astrology, lithotherapy or tarology. The idea is to widen the field of possibilities.”

“Witchcraft is a reality in sport”

Footballers and more generally top athletes are no exception. “It’s a phenomenon quite present in the world of sport”, indicates on BFMTV Pierre Maturana, editorial director of SoFoot. He thus evokes cases of players calling on “spiritual agents” whom they consult regularly. And who sometimes have a great influence on them.

To the point that it happens that these situations degenerate. The Ivorian player Gilles Yapi-Yapo, who used the services of witch doctors to revive his career, was thus defrauded of 200,000 euros, remember Le Figaro. But victims rarely come forward. In six years, on the subject of marabouts, there have been only twelve referrals to the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Aberrations (Miviludes).

Witchcraft is even “a daily reality in sport”, thus confides to the Figaro Pastor Joël Thibault, chaplain to the French Olympic athletes. He claims to have collected testimonies from famous French sportsmen on the subject, some fearing to have been marabouted.

“Most athletes believe in it, because they live in the obsession of competition and performance, and this reinforces their superstitions”, he analyzes. “Then many grew up in a culture where witchcraft is part of spirituality.”

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Are marabouts and bad spells common among athletes?

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