All-Africa Games could be described as the “Olympics of Africa”, being a multi-sport event which (supposedly) draws all the best sportsmen and -women from all over the continent. The 12th edition of All-Africa Games were just concluded in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. The same city hosted the first event back in 1965. Brazzaville is the second city to host the Games twice, after Algiers, which acted as the host in 1978 and 2007. All Africa Games has been in almost all cases is the biggest sporting event ever held in the hosting country.
All-Africa Games has mostly similar composition of sports than the Olympics, but there are differences too. For example, karate and Petanque are competed at this year’s All-Africa Games but not at the Olympics next year. Conversely Archery, Canoeing and Sailing are among the Olympic sports not competed at this year’s All-Africa Games (but may have featured at previous editions). The selection of events held at All-Africa Games depends much on the host’s ability to organise them. That’s why, for instance, Field Hockey is left out since there are no suitable facilities. Building a hockey stadium only for the games makes no sense if the sport is not played in the country. Hosting cities have relatively small budgets and hence cannot put much money in infrastructure, instead using existing facilities.
Being held a year before the Olympics, All-Africa Games provides a good opportunity for athletes to get international exposure. Some sports indeed use All-Africa Games as continental qualifiers
The quality of competition varies greatly. There are some world-class stars participating, like South African swimmer Chad le Clos and Botswana runner Nijel Amos lighting up this year’s event. Kenya and Ethiopia, on the other hand, often send only those runners who don’t make the World Championships that year. Despite this, they still dominate middle and long distance running, that’s how wide talent they have.
Many events suffer from poor standards and lack participants. In most African countries few sports besides football are taken seriously. Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and South Africa are among the few countries that have expansive representation across different sports.
My observation is that the games do not get much media attention. African newspapers do report about the games, but not nearly as much as one would expect from a premier sports event. Outside Africa, there is practically no media coverage at all. In this respect, other similar sports events like Asian Games and Pan-African games appear to have bigger impact.
Yet another problem is to find host cities. Unlike Olympics or even Commonwealth Games, there is no fierce rivalry between cities who want to host the event. Instead, African Union, Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa and the Association of African Sports Confederations, who jointly organise All-Africa Games, will have to beg cities to send their bids.
The 2011 event was almost cancelled as the selected host Lusaka pulled out. Fortunately Maputo of Mozambique came to rescue and organised the games successfully despite rushed preparations. The next event (2019) is to be held in four years, but the hosts are yet to be selected. At least Ghana has been bidding for the games.
Despite these shortcomings, All-Africa Games has its place in the sporting calendar, and for many athletes it is the main competition of the year. Hopefully the games will thrive in the future, instead of fading away.