Former patron of the Marseille Olympics and man of many lives, Pape Diouf is dead

Pape Diouf in Marseille, in February 2014. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

Pope Diouf, it was first of all a spirit. An enlightened, laughing, rigorous mind. Pape Diouf, it was also a sharp, fair, honest franchise. In the world of football as elsewhere, he feared no one, and his dialectic of cultivated man quickly calmed his rare opponents. “Pope”, as anonymous and close relatives called him, died on March 31 in Dakar, swept away by the coronavirus, at the age of 68, the first victim of the disease in Senegal. His name will forever be associated with the city of Marseille and his football club, OM, which he chaired from 2005 to 2009. If it resonated so intensely in him, perhaps it was because his father, Demba, was born in 1899, like OM. Even though he was very much opposed to this former standard bearer of the Free French Forces, he said that his spirit was always close to him.

Promised for a military career

Pape Diouf was born on December 18, 1951 in Abéché, Chad, where his father, Senegalese, worked. But it was with his uncle that he grew up, in Senegal, then in Mauritania, before finishing his schooling in Dakar. “Finish” is a big word: the teenager lacking in assiduity, his father decides to send him to France so that he enlists, like him in the past, in the army. Pope Diouf does not know it. “The African”, as he defined himself, therefore disembarks shortly before his 18th birthday by boat in Marseille, and must go to the military school in Avignon. Finally, he never joined the army, preferring to sail in “The neighborhood”, as he said, in Belsunce, the Marseille corner of Africans and Arabs, where he spent part of his time in the 1970s.

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At first glance, this city does not please him. “I arrived on a day of great cold, of strong wind, he confided one day. I immediately got to know the mistral, who had ruffled me, completely destabilized. No, frankly, I didn’t have a crush on the city at all but rather a huge blues stroke. When I arrived, I only wanted to go home. Marseille is after you get to know the city, get used to it, understand it and love it. “ To love and understand her, the first thing he will do is attend an OM game. The following three years, he goes on odd jobs, sleeps in a home for young people in difficulty, then registers at Sciences Po in Aix-en-Provence after having passed the special entrance exam to the university, the equivalent of the bac.

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