All Africa Games 2015 – Coming of Age or Same Old Style?

 

The All Africa Games, otherwise dubbed as the “African Olympics”, are an important event for sport on the African continent.

Next year, the 11th edition of the games will take place in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. The games will be returning to their birthplace. Fifty years ago, the then ambitious project of the All Africa Games was launched in 1965, two years after the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The All Africa Games, therefore, have huge significance for the African continent not just as a platform for show-casing African sporting talent but in terms of their portrayal of African aspirations for freedom, unity and independence.

In the past, the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) has done its best in terms of facilitating the organisation of this major multi-sport event in various African countries.

Southern Africa has had the privilege of hosting the All Africa Games thrice through Harare, Zimbabwe (1995), Johannesburg, South Africa (1999), and of late, Maputo, Mozambique (2011).

In recent times, there have been some serious issues over ownership and organisation of these games and a tussle between the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA). The situation was further compounded with the dissolution of the SCSA and the transition to the African Union Sports Council.

The uncertainty over the organisation of the games and owners of the games does not augur well for the event in terms of marketing and promotion.  Commercial sponsors who are vital to the organisation of such major events want certainty and stability. The All Africa Games is a gold mine of opportunities in terms of revenue generation to support the development of sport throughout the African continent. Sadly, these opportunities are being lost because of haphazard and disjointed marketing of the event. The event is not well promoted throughout the continent to ensure general public awareness.

Apart from accredited delegations and local people who grace the stands as spectators, very few sports lovers travel from other parts of Africa to go and watch the event. This is not because African sports lovers cannot afford to travel to watch the games but in most cases they do not know about the event and traveling throughout Africa is very difficult. Flight connections within Africa are a nightmare for the average traveller. For example, somebody from Southern Africa wanting to travel to Brazzaville will most probably have to fly to Addis Ababa or Nairobi then to Brazzaville. If one is lucky, there might just be a South African Airways (SAA) flight from Johannesburg to Brazzaville probably once or twice a week.The time spent travelling does not include waiting times at some run-down, hot and stuffy airport lounges along the way.

The average African traveller is also subjected to the indignity and tedious process of applying for a visa to go to another African country, unlike in Europe where, as a holder of a European Union (EU) passport, you can go wherever you want within the continent, funds permitting.

Organisers of the All Africa Games must take all these issues into consideration and see how best they can assist sports lovers on the continent to travel and enjoy sport.This means even lobbying with the African Union (AU) to consider introducing AU passports to facilitate freedom of movement of Africans on the continent. Why should freedom of movement on the continent be restricted to “diplomatic” passport holders only?

By way of comparison, the difference in the effort going into organisation of the 17th Asian Games to be held in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014 and the All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo is, to put it euphemistically, grossly embarrassing. By end of 2013, almost all the facilities for the games were completed. As of last year, the Incheon Asian Organising Committee had even launched the song and video for their games. Called “Only One” the song is performed by the K-Pop boy band and Asian Games Goodwill Ambassadors, JYJ.

Asians are currently gearing themselves for one huge party celebrating sport on their continent. The meticulous organisation that goes into preparatory process is amazing. It is not just about that fact that Asia is wealthy.

Even Europeans have now adopted the concept of continental games learning from the fanfare that was experienced in Africa, America, Asia and Oceania.  n this connection, in 2015, under the auspices of the European Olympic Committee (EOC), Europeans will gather in Baku, Azerbaijan, to celebrate for the first time continental games called the “European Games”. Already, the European Games are becoming a hugely anticipated event. Azerbaijan, the organisers are leaving no stone unturned in their preparations for the European festival of sport. 

Here in Africa, the preparations are limping towards 2015. If one was to undertake a survey throughout the continent, one would most probably establish that very few Africans know about the coming event of the All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo. There is very little information dissemination to hype interest about the games on the continent.

It has also become tradition that the real big stars of sport on the African continent, especially in track and field athletics, do not even bother to participate in the All Africa Games. It is not just  about the prize monies or incentives, it is more to do with the shambolic and shoddy organisation, which is sometimes associated with the All Africa Games that causes some of the big name stars to shy away and stay clear of the event. Organisers must go all out to attract the best of African talent to come for the games.  Young African sports stars will definitely feel proud to be associated with the event, if it is well organised and promoted.

Even the average spectator will also have to memories to treasure if the event is of world-class standards. 

As Africans, we should move away from the mindset of accepting second or third best from ourselves. In terms of culture and education programmes through the medium of television, the All Africa Games also provide an opportunity to promote peace and well-being on the continent. Africa has a wealth of cultural icons such as Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Yassou Ndour, D’Banj and so many others who can create huge interest in the games.

 In addition, there are celebrated sports stars such as Frank Fredericks, Lucas Radebe, George Weah, Haile Gebresellasie and Maria Mutola who are very much under-utilized as African sporting ambassadors. 

These sports people can greatly assist with the overall marketing of the All Africa Games and turn them into a profitable venture benefiting African sport at large. 

Next year will reveal if the All Africa Games have really come of age in terms of innovation and organisational standards.  It will be really sad for African sports people if the situation is “same old style”.

March 2014
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