It’s time for Africa

In 2022 the IOC will stage an event in Africa for the first time, in the Sengalese capital Dakar. Will the Youth Olympic Games represent a milestone for sports events on the continent? SportBusiness investigates.

Aerial view of the city of Dakar, Senegal, showing the densely packed buildings and a highway

On October 8, the International Olympic Committee broke new ground by awarding the Senegalese capital of Dakar the hosting rights to the 2022 summer Youth Olympic Games.
It will mark the first IOC event to be held in Africa – a continent playing catch-up on the world stage. With Rio’s 2016 Olympics having taken the Games to Latin America for the first time, Africa remains the one populated continent to have never staged the biggest event in sport.

“It’s time for Africa,” IOC president Thomas Bach said at the Dakar announcement. However, it remains to be seen whether the 2022 Games will serve as the necessary launchpad for loftier hosting ambitions.

The IOC is not the only major sporting federation to have opened its eyes to Africa this year, with the International Cycling Union (UCI) having stated its intention to take its flagship event, the Road World Championships, to the continent for the first time in 2025. Countries have until September 2019 to submit their bids, with Rwanda having already expressed an interest.

With the YOG, Senegal was selected ahead of Botswana, Nigeria and Tunisia, although all three countries pledged to support the event. After deciding in February that the 2022 edition would take place in Africa, the IOC worked with selected African national Olympic committees on the logistics of staging the Games as part of a more streamlined host selection process.

After what the IOC described as “thorough analysis” by its Evaluation Commission, Dakar was deemed to have presented the “best-value proposition and the greatest opportunities” for hosting the YOG.

In a promotional video released to coincide with the announcement of Dakar as host of the YOG, the IOC pointed to Senegal’s position as a “gateway to Africa” – a slogan that no doubt ties in with its own long-term strategy for the continent.


Dakar 2022 plans to host events in three locations – the capital itself, along with the new city of Diamniadio and the coastal city of Saly. Events will be held either at new venues or at recently-renovated facilities, with Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, having stated that a 50,000-seat Olympic Stadium will be delivered for the Games, which has an estimated budget of $150m (€131m).

Dakar-based venues will include the Olympic Club, which features tennis courts and sports halls, a 10-lane Olympic pool and diving facilities, along with an adjacent park and basketball courts.

The 5,000-seat Stade Iba Mar Diop is also able to host athletics, football, beach volleyball and rugby union events.  Dakar’s new 20,000-seat wrestling arena also opened in July and will host the Games’ combat sports.

Meanwhile, the 15,000-seat Dakar Arena in nearby Diamniadio has been described by the IOC as “one of the jewels of the Youth Olympic Games” and will host basketball and handball events. The facility was opened in August and President Sall said the arena was built in response to Senegal’s victory at the 2015 edition of Fiba’s AfroBasket Women – a competition the country is considering hosting itself in 2019.

Diamniadio will also host events at the under-construction Dakar Expo Center, the brand-new Amadou-Mahtar-Mbow University and the Youth Olympic Village, with hopes that it will be ready by the end of 2020. The coastal resort of Saly, one of Senegal’s main tourist destinations, will host water sports, beach sports and golf during the YOG.


In line with IOC requirements, Dakar, Diamniadio and Saly will offer 3,200 three-, four- and five-star rooms. With a major airport ideally placed for fans and athletes to travel to the three host destinations, a recently-constructed highway and a new railway system scheduled to be finished by early next year, all signs point towards Senegal having the necessary infrastructure in place to host the YOG.

This is a view shared by Edward Gregory, chief executive of Accelerate Sport, a Cape Town-based sports marketing agency. “I think this is a brilliant step for Africa,” Gregory tells SportBusiness.

“Countries on the continent are making big strides economically and in the sporting landscape and events such as this help to not only bring exposure for these countries and what they do, but also to increase awareness in their own country.

“Outside of South Africa, which has hosted all three major World Cups [in football, cricket and rugby union] there have been very few major global events hosted on the African continent. This, alongside Botswana’s successful hosting of the 2017 Netball World Youth Cup, illustrates the first signs of global sports organisations becoming open to African countries (outside South Africa) hosting major events.”

Sport also forms a major part of President Sall’s Plan Sénégal Émergent, a development model to accelerate the country’s social and economic growth by 2035. Hosting an event such as the YOG will undoubtedly bring benefits but, as Gregory explains, it will be a balancing act.

“This is always a debated topic as it has to be successfully run to ensure that it is profitable,” he says. “There are significant costs Dakar is going to incur during the next four-year period as they have committed to building a new stadium and more. However, if done properly and marketed correctly, there are significant financial benefits to hosting the YOG.”

Gregory adds that the tourism boost that comes with hosting the YOG will not only be felt by Senegal, but also by neighbouring countries. “Major events attract a significant following and thus people travel from all over the world to attend these events, bringing direct economic investment into the country,” he says.

“They then will often travel further before or after [the events] in that country, and also in surrounding countries, using the opportunity of being there to explore.

“While not attracting as much attention as the Olympic Games, there is still significant broadcast and media coverage focused on the YOG and if Senegal is able to run a very successful tournament it not only puts the country in a positive light in terms of hosting, but also allows them to showcase other elements of Dakar and Senegal to the world.”

(Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Testing ambitions

Africa’s ambitions in the marketplace have been tested in recent times, with high-profile blows concerning three major events in particular.

In June, Morocco was defeated in its bid to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup by the joint proposal comprising the United States, Canada and Mexico. The United 2026 bid won 134 votes compared to Morocco’s 65, in an election held during the Congress of Fifa, world football’s governing body, ahead of this year’s World Cup in Russia. Morocco also unsuccessfully bid to host the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

Seven months before Morocco’s setback, France was controversially awarded the hosting rights for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. World Rugby’s decision went against the recommendation made by the Rugby World Cup Limited board the previous month, following detailed consideration of the host candidate evaluation report. It was a bitter blow to supporters of South Africa, which famously hosted the 1995 edition of the tournament.

It was the second major blow of the year for South Africa’s event-hosting credentials. In March 2017, Durban was stripped of the right to stage the 2022 Commonwealth Games, having defaulted on a series of pledges to the Commonwealth Games Federation, with particular concerns about the financial guarantees for the event. The CGF has vowed to take the event to Africa for the first time in the future, although no target date has been set.

With the appetite for securing major events clearly present, Gregory believes there are three key challenges the continent faces when entering the bidding arena.

“Funding is always a major issue for African nations, as they are all considered developing nations and therefore being able to commit the significant guarantees these tournaments require has always been difficult to justify with funding needed for so many projects,” he says.

“In terms of transport infrastructure, these events bring tremendous amounts of people into a small area and as a result the host has to have a developed and strong transport network to ensure it can handle the increase without negatively effecting its citizens. African nations also have to compete against first world countries with more advanced technology, infrastructure and experience.”

(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Addressing challenges

In terms of addressing these challenges to attract more major events to Africa, there has to be evidence of a clear legacy.

“The key for these countries is to use these events as a catalyst to improve the country or city that is hosting, therefore ensuring that if they spend money, it leaves behind a legacy that benefits the country for a long time to come,” Gregory said. “If they prove they can host this level of event they can start bidding for future events such as Fifa World Cups and Junior Fifa World Cups.”

The Dakar 2022 masterplan has been born to create a potential pathway to a summer Olympic Games in Africa. However, how realistic is this vision?

Looking back at Olympic bidding history since the turn of the century, African cities have only been in the running on two occasions. In the race for the 2004 Games, the South African city of Cape Town made it through to the final selection alongside Athens, Buenos Aires, Rome and Stockholm. Cape Town departed in the fourth and penultimate round of voting, with Athens ultimately going on to defeat Rome.

The Egyptian capital of Cairo was Africa’s representative for the 2008 Olympics, but failed to make it to the final five in the selection process, falling away alongside fellow bids from Bangkok, Havana, Kuala Lumpur and Seville.

In July of this year, the Egyptian government announced that the country would bid to host the 2030 Fifa World Cup and 2032 summer Olympic Games. Such a leap, though, would appear to be optimistic.

Gregory can see a road to an Olympics in Africa, but believes a maiden Commonwealth Games would be the next step on the multi-sports event path.

“The more African countries can continue to prove their ability in hosting major events, the closer it gets,” he adds. “One would think it is done on a country-to-country basis, but I firmly believe Africa is seen as a collective and if one [country] displays the ability to host a major event, then should another country bid for a major event, it further enhances their chances.

“I think the next step is for the Commonwealth Games to be staged on the African continent and should that be a success it will only be a matter of time before the Olympic Games comes to Africa.”

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