From the edge of the basketball court, Barry Sadou gives the go. A group of five players rush against five defenders. This morning, the drill is about ball movement. The attacking team must chain ten successive passes without bouncing the ball. We are at the Swallows Academy, in the Hédzranawoé district, located on the northern outskirts of Lomé, between the presidential palace and the Gnassingbé-Eyadéma international airport.
Former student of the Academy, Barry Sadou is active in coaching young people. Since becoming a coach in 2018, he has never hesitated to share his playing experience with them. “I am proud to give back what I have been taught. Here, I sometimes manage up to 200 children, in all categories, girls and boys, ”he explains, rejoicing at having raised his women’s under-20 team to the rank of Togo champion in 2019.
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In basketball, which made the first hours of glory of the Swallows (with nine titles of national champion) different disciplines have gradually been grafted, starting with football, but also maracaña, taekwondo, karate, tennis, to which s add cultural activities, especially music.
Breaking up with “cheating” on age
The history of the academy began in 1997, when the founders of the Original Basket Players Association (OBP) wanted to give new impetus to their club, the Swallows. After having succeeded in raising the team among the tenors of the national basketball championship, the idea of creating an academy was formalized in 2013, with the launch of another discipline: football.
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Initially with a purely social vocation, the center is now positioned as a talent factory. “At the start, our ambition was to give all young people the opportunity to have a sporting environment at their disposal, which would allow them to express their abilities”, explains a manager of the centre, which welcomes around 350 children a day for free trainings. With today a new objective: to identify talents very early on, to support their emergence and, thus, to contribute to break with practices that often tarnish the reputation of African athletes, such as “cheating” on age.
Within the Swallows Academy, young people aged 3 to 23 are supervised by around fifteen coaches and divided into three different groups. First, the category made up of children from underprivileged backgrounds, welcomed in a “social” logic and whose training conditions are less demanding. Then, that made up of young people registered in “apprenticeship” by their parents. And, finally, the “elite” category, made up of talents detected during a specific selection test or from the two previous groups. They are the ones who defend the colors of the academy in national and international competitions.
Thus, around twenty players from the center recruited by local clubs play in the national football championships. Others have crossed borders, like Guillaume Yenoussi, who joined French club Chambly in the second division and is regularly called up for the national team. Elom Nya-Vedji plays for Czech club FK Ústí nad Labem; Klousseh Agbozo joined Olympique de Béja, Tunisia; and Daniel Attisso, Racing Club d’Abidjan (RCA), in Côte d’Ivoire. In 2020, Sidike Tando, then U16, meanwhile won the “FC Bayern Youth Cup” freestyle challenge, organized remotely – Covid-19 obliges – by the famous German football club. On the girls’ side, Takiyatou Yaya signed with İlkadım Belediyesi Yabancılar Pazarı Spor, a Turkish women’s first division club.
In basketball, Swallows placed four of his “residents” in American universities, on the doorstep of the prestigious NBA championship: Samson Johnson thus joined the Huskies of Connecticut ; Réana Aharh at Trine University in Indiana; Romaric Magnan now plays in Texas; and Yasmine Apoudjak in Florida… “It’s a source of pride to see these children succeed nationally and abroad,” testifies the centre’s administrator, Florent Kataka, who doesn’t miss any training. “Even if we are working to ensure that there is a ‘return on investment’, the vocation of the academy is above all human”, he adds.
Sport-studies on the rails
It is precisely to achieve this objective that the Swallows center launched at least October 2021 a sports-study program, with twenty young 15-year-old footballers detected or trained in the center. The academy thus intends to become more professional, by meeting international standards in terms of sports training and following the example of centers recognized in the sub-region, such as the Racing Club of Abidjan or Generation Foot, in Senegal.
To do this, the center has a boarding school. “The opening of such a structure was necessary for the implementation of the sport-studies program, explains Florent Kataka. This makes it possible to solve the problems of the distance of the residents from their training grounds, the difficulties of transport and, more generally, the impossibility of building a real project for the training of sports elites because of the difficulties programming of training in relation to different school programs. »
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The academy is making the final adjustments to its post-baccalaureate training system, in order to allow its students aged 20 and over to continue their studies if they are not ready to start a career as a professional player. “They will be able to take university courses in management, commerce, marketing and sports communication”, specifies Florent Kataka.
Since the opening of the training center in 2013, its equipment and achievements have been financed by contributions from members of the Swallows association and by a few donations. Everything is administered and managed using a project-based approach. The center already has football and basketball courts, a martial arts room and, for the past few months, a tennis court. And it is under permanent construction, since work is currently underway on the development of the stand of the football field, as well as those of the accommodation buildings and classrooms.
“We do not benefit from any subsidies, neither national nor international, but we give ourselves the means to achieve our objectives. It may take time, but we will get there,” insists Florent Kataka. Adding however that the Swallows center does not close the door to investors and to donors.