25 . 08 . 2016
An Olympic Games in Africa? There’s a way to go yet.

As the dust settles on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Dimeji Bankole considers if, how and when we will see a host country from Africa.

Just about everyone I know enjoys watching the Olympics.

It’s the excitement. The passion. And the drama, often defined by moments of triumph, or tragedy, for all of those who have worked so hard to earn the right to compete.

My country, Nigeria, put on a great show in Rio this summer! We saw great success on the football pitch, and the basketball court. Our athletes who competed in Brazil, striving under intense pressure to do our country proud, deserve their every success.

For all of the Games’ athletes, it was doubtless a long and gruelling road – early morning practices and untold sacrifices as their peers partied and enjoyed life. A lifestyle of rigour and discipline gave them the character to reach their peak and achieve the success in which the world is now sharing.

For Nigerian athletes, however, this was even more pronounced as they did not receive from the government the level of support and financing that many of their competitors relied on. Still, this did not prevent them from giving it their all; they are Olympians and I commend their work ethic, persistence and character.

If we applied but a portion of the level of commitment and drive that these athletes possess to our own lives, just imagine how different our economy and local industry would look

RioBrazil, whilst far from topping the medal table, has reason to celebrate as the host of this year’s Olympic Games. For all the initial doubts and controversy, brought on particularly by Russian doping allegations and questions over the preparedness of Rio as a host city, it all came together in South America. Yes, there were safety concerns – with some athletes being told to stay away from Rio’s beaches at night, for example. Yet – these are the kind of problems all big cities face, day to day. They should be taken seriously, and ultimately overcome, but not over-exaggerated.

When I see Rio on the television, with the bright lights reflecting smiling faces from across the world, I can’t help but think – how long before we see an Olympic Games in Africa, or in Nigeria? I have also seen a number of people on social media asking the same question. It would have to be a Summer Olympics, really – the African climate doesn’t offer much hope for hosting a future Winter Olympics!

Playing host is, traditionally, a statement of intent. History tells us so. 

Japan in 1964 used the Olympic Games to position the country as a gateway to Asia for Europe. The infamous Soviet Union Games in 1980 were as much about promoting an entrenched political ideology as they were about the competition itself. Whilst, in more recent years, countries have used the Olympics as a way to galvanise future tourism and travel – London 2012 springs to mind, for example.

Yet, the decision to host an Olympic Games is, almost always, a divisive issue amongst the people of the host nation itself. For one reason above all – there is a huge cost attached to it. The pomp and ceremony does not come cheap. The Brazilian Government committed billions of dollars to the Olympics with no guarantee of a return on investment. It is also difficult to assess if, and how, those facilities built for the Olympics will be used into the future – the hope is extensively, and by future generations, but the transition is never easy.

A bid to host the Olympic Games places a country’s long-term economic prioritisation under scrutiny.  And the priority of any country must be its own people. Brazil clearly believes a few weeks bathed in the global spotlight will – ultimately – be worthwhile for its people. There’s no doubt that tourism, a key source of revenue for the country, will pick up. Improvements have been made to vital infrastructure, in Rio primarily, too.

So it begs the question – could an African country do the same? Use the Olympics to announce the region on the world stage, and make history in the process? The short answer is – yes, but not now. It is clearly not the right time for countries across our continent. There are more important and pressing concerns that need to be addressed.

Reducing poverty, improving education, defeating the scourge of terrorism, battling corruption to name a few. All of which have to be tackled within the context of a falling oil price, and increasing global economic uncertainty. For countries traditionally more dependent on oil-revenue and in need of economic diversification, such as Nigeria and Chad, that makes it even harder

As a continent, right now, we can’t consider an event the size of the Olympics as a priority. It would be a disservice to the millions who still suffer in poverty in every African country, many of whom would lack both the means and the desire to enjoy the event itself.

But I dont want to rule it out entirely.

The time will come for an African country to host the Games. There is no doubting our capacity – one need only to look at the All Africa Games or Football World Cup hosted successfully by South Africa in 2010. We have proven able to meet the demands of major sporting events. One idea could be a joint hosting of the Games between African nations, helping to share the cost and responsibility while boosting the opportunity for increased tourism in different regions. South Korea and Japan did this for the World Cup in 2002; so could we.

Either way – if not now, then some day.

We, as Africans, should not be too preoccupied with the alluring spectacle in Rio. Any dreams of hosting the event on our continent are distant still. If we should be concerned with anything – lets make it the spirit of the Games.

It’s a spirit that drives an athlete’s individual journey. From a field, a river, or an open road at home, to competing on the world stage. A spirit that spurred our athletes, and indeed one that all Nigerian citizens should embrace,  with the goal of bettering  and furthering our own country.

If Africa is destined to one day host the Olympic Games, then we’re just at the start of our journey. And there’s a long way to go. But, when the time is right, we’ll get there for sure.