Africa is building its sporting legacy by hosting international sports events

Nelson Mandela Stadium in Baraki, off Algiers, Algeria [Image Source: CAF]

From Morocco to Algeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa, countries across the continent are leveraging international sports events to develop their sporting infrastructure and become internationally competitive in a growing number of sports.

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The just-concluded 2023 Club World Cup in Morocco is just one of a series of major regional and international sporting events that have resulted in major upgrades to the continent’s sporting facilities – seen as key to ensuring Africa’s further success in the international sporting arena.

With the semi-finals in Tangier and the finals in Rabat – 217 kilometres apart – Morocco inaugurated a high-speed train connecting the two towns.

Down south, South Africa is looking to make history again by becoming the first African country to host a Women’s World Cup if its bid for the 2027 event gets the green light from FIFA.

The country was the first – and so far only – country on the continent to host the men’s World Cup, in 2010.

Danny Jordaan, the South African Football Association president, recently said the country has enough facilities and is adequately prepared to host the event.

“We believe we have got what is required to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in South Africa. The success of the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa dispelled pessimism around an African bid,” he said in a press statement.

“The venues are in place, the training grounds are in place, the accommodation and the roads are in place,” he added.

The country faces a challenge from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, who are competing to host the event with a joint bid.

Win or lose, South Africa’s bid to host the world’s largest women’s sporting event raises awareness of Africa as an international sporting events destination.

The country’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup resulted in the construction of five new stadiums, four of which have seating capacities of more than 40,000.

The FNB Stadium, popularly known as Soccer City, was upgraded between 2006 and 2009 after South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 event. FIFA pumped approximately US$260 million into improving the stadium to its current 94,000-spectator capacity, the largest in Africa and among the top five biggest stadiums in the world.

The stadium has hosted numerous sporting events and also international music concerts, providing a venue for artists like Ed Sheeran and One Direction.

The Cape Town Stadium – with a maximum 64,100 seat capacity (later reduced to 58,300) and now branded the DHL Stadium – was also developed as a result of the successful 2010 bid and is now an iconic landmark for the city with Table Mountain as its backdrop. In addition to football, it hosts both sevens and rugby league matches and is home to both the Cape Town City football team and the Stormers and Western Province rugby teams.

Up north, Algeria’s bid to host the ongoing African Nations Championship led to the development of the new Nelson Mandela Stadium in Baraki, off Algiers.

The more than 40,000-capacity new facility hosted the tournament’s opening match and is estimated to have cost $270 million. In addition, the stadium will host one of the quarter-finals, one of the semi-finals and the grand final of the event.

And as Ghana gets ready to host the 13th Africa Games in August, a key qualifying opportunity for African athletes ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, critical advancements have been made in that country’s sports infrastructure.

More than 5000 elite athletes and coaches from fifty-five African countries in twenty-six sporting disciplines will descend on Ghana for the event and the government is overhauling major facilities, including the Borteyman Sports Complex and other venues, including the Baba Yara stadium in Kumasi, are being renovated for the event.

Mustapha Ussif, Algeria’s Minister for Youth and Sports, indicated in a recent interview that Borteyman Sports Complex will, after the tournament, be converted to a “University of Sports” to develop Ghanaian sporting talent.

In the build-up to the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament held in February 2022, Cameroon built or renovated more than 30 stadiums and training pitches in five of its ten regions.

Cameroon invested nearly US$1 billion in developing the 60,000-capacity Paul Biya Omnisports Stadium (locally known as Olembe Stadium), alongside other sports infrastructures’ renovation in preparation for the tournament.

Senegal is also planning to revamp its sporting infrastructure as it prepares to host the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics.

The West African country recently inaugurated a 50,000-capacity stadium in Diamniadio, some 30 kilometres south of Dakar, at a cost of US$270 million.

Beyond football and athletics, basketball has also seen significantly elevated sporting infrastructure. The NBA’s focus on Africa led to NBA Africa opening offices in Johannesburg, Dakar, Accra and Lagos and in 2018, the organisation opened an elite training academy in Sally, Senegal, for young players across Africa. The indoor elite training venue is a partnership between the NBA Academy Africa and the SEED project.

The inaugural seasons of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) and the AfroBasket tournament in 2021 were both held at the newly-built and hugely impressive Kigali Arena, the biggest indoor arena in East Africa. The 10,000-seater arena is also used for volleyball events, as well as for concerts.

The upcoming 2025 Road Cycling World Championships are set to be hosted in Africa (in Morocco and Rwanda), providing an opportunity for the continent to accelerate the development of infrastructure in yet another sporting discipline.

Yet despite the infrastructural and technical growth achieved when hosting major sports events, experts highlight the need for a sustainable plan to achieve holistic transformation in sports.

According to Lola Ogunbote, a women’s football sports manager, there should be long-term plans to grow the entire ecosystem.

“Are we providing more access by investing in our grassroots clubs that will feed professional clubs in the end?” she questioned.

For her, a sustained approach that ensures team managers and players access to more opportunities in the global sporting space would ensure better outcomes. However, she insisted, the opportunity for hosting big events should not be wasted.

“If we are going to have this World Cup in South Africa which will bring the world to us, we should focus on building a long-term impact that will be left for our people afterwards,” she noted.

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