Africa, Headlines

SPORTS-AFRICA: Prestigious Continental Games Kick Off Next Week

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Sep 26 2003 (IPS) - Nigeria hosts the 8th All African Games in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, next week. The games, the most prestigious on the continent, will be attended by 7,000 athletes, 1,500 journalists and over 10,000 fans from across Africa.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and his wife are expected for the opening ceremony on Oct. 4.

Nigeria will put a team of 546 athletes – comprising 304 male and 242 female athletes – at the games. The large contingent, officials say, is to ensure that Nigeria tops the medal table for the first time since the continental event started in Brazzaville, Congo, in 1965.

The sports authorities in Nigeria have been preparing for the event for a long time. In fact, the Nigerian athletes returned last weekend from a one-month training tour of Bulgaria, Cuba and Germany.

To boost their morale, President Olusegun Obasanjo treated them to a dinner party on Friday before moving into a secluded sports village.

Twenty-three sporting events are scheduled to take place during the 16-day event, including male and female soccer which will be held in four cities – Lagos, Bauchi, Calabar and Kaduna – across the country.

The athletes and fans will also be treated to traditional dances organised by the United Nigerian Artistes.

Amos Adamu, Executive Director of the Nigerian Organising Committee (COJA), said the arrangement for an Entertainment Village during the games was to make the residents of Abuja and the satellite towns feel part of the fun of the continental fiesta. Apart from the Games Park, situated at the International Centre of the Games Village and Abuja Satellite Towns, there will also be a caravan float round the streets of Abuja.

”We want to keep all athletes, officials and tourists in happy mood at all times, through music,” Adamu said.

Some 675 traditional and contemporary dancers have already arrived in Abuja for rehearsals for the opening ceremony of the games. Bose Tsevende, one of the organisers, said the dancers, all Nigerians, will feature in a one-hour package of traditional and contemporary dances at the opening ceremony.

Facilities at the new National Stadium in Abuja are 90 percent complete, according to sports officials. Rehabilitation work is also going on at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos to host the soccer tournament of the games. Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State has given the company, renovating the stadium, orders to work round the clock to ensure its completion before the kick-off tournament next week.

The 60,000-capacity stadium in Abuja, which will host most of the events, is the first of such stadium ever to be built in Nigeria, with world-class facilities.

Unlike the Olympics and Commonwealth games, where about 20,000 volunteers are engaged, 7,000 Nigerian volunteers out of the more than 50,000 who applied for the job have been selected and trained by the UN Volunteer Activities. ”This is our first experience. And, as time goes on, we will improve on the number of the volunteer service scheme. The experts’ assistance in the training and logistics will improve the standard of the volunteers,” said Adamu.

Two hundred and fifty volunteers will also assist journalists in the 1,500-strong media box at the new stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies. They will also be available to the media in all the other venues.

Fan Ndubuoke, of the Nigerian Organising Committee, assured that communication would not pose any problem as they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Globacom, Nigeria’s second largest communication network.

Nigeria, with a population of 120 million, is known for its erratic telephone and chaotic transport systems.

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