Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 September 2011
Issue No. 1064
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Nothing to write home about

Though Egypt is taking part in the All-Africa Games currently being held in Maputo, Mozambique, little information do we have about what's happening. Inas Mazhar finds out why

Usually, the participation of Egypt is the biggest and largest among all the 53 African nations at the All-Africa Games. And accordingly, the Egyptians are usually accompanied by the largest media delegation covering the spectacle.

However, it is not the case this year. Most probably because of the revolution, the National Olympic Committee participated with a small delegation, compared to previous years, a mere 100-man team including athletes, administratives and officials.

Egyptian media, too, are almost absent from this event. The Games is the biggest sports event on the continent which takes place every four years. And though Egypt has been dominating the medals table since the creation of this continental gathering, there has been rare news about it. Current austerity measures at national media organisations is a result of that absence to an extent.

AIPS Executive Committee member Evelyn Watta reports about her experience in Maputo:

"It is dubbed Africa's version of the Olympics with governments using the Pan-African Games to parade their talent in sports. It is one event that even governments known for shying away from supporting their national teams' splash money without batting an eyelid.

"From chartering flights to generously kitting their teams -- but that is not all that is required to host a successful sporting event. It is a time that the routine austerity measures are disregarded without any questions.

"For most of these nations this quadrennial games are their best chance to make a mark in the competitive world of sport and that is why it is highly regarded by some of the small sporting nations more than the Summer Olympics Games.

"Considering the significance of the games to the 53 member states on African soil, it is a key event for the regions sports journalists. But sadly this is not the case. As a matter of fact it is one assignment that sports journalist rebuff.

"It certainly can't be because the gruelling process of acquiring the accreditation which could keep you out of trouble with the mean looking security forces manning the venues strewn across the city, or the hassle of advance-booking of a hotel with only the top- notch hotels accessible online and the reasonably priced too few to cater for visitors as is the case with the current host (Maputo) where the barely completed accommodation facilities at the athletes village are just not enough.

"Shuttling between the venues is agonising... with no proper public transport, a huge percentage of the expenses budget of any journalist is set aside for the expensive cab rides as the handful of press labelled mini-vans are dedicated to serve the nonchalant volunteers assigned to the media press centre, a secluded room where anyone with a laptop or an accreditation card dangling on their necks has access.

"Days into the Games no Internet connection and when it finally goes on, its off and finally on...cross your fingers it stays like that.

"A click on the Games site for the latest results or starting lists is a far fetched dream, not to mention the appalling typos and mix ups on this page. Just to be sure, always confirm the results with the team officials if you were not at the venue yourself, and while you're at it, get the team schedules as well.

"Covering athletics. The main programme of the two-week-long event is a messy affair. Hours after the heats and some finals, there are no results forthcoming so the best you can do is to get the name and wait for the unofficial timings when they are released most likely the following day.

"But then again two years is way too short to organise an event of this magnitude, let alone Mozambique which had to put up the Olympic Stadium in Zimpetu in just 18 months as they stepped in to save the situation after initial host Zambia pulled out due to lack of funds.

"Wouldn't it have been easier if the Games were put off to save this Portuguese speaking nation the blushes of organising such a topsy- turvy event? But not for an event that is certainly more political than sporty and the best forum for the organisers -- the Supreme Council of Sports in Africa comprising sports ministers from the competing countries -- to show their might before maybe handing over the baton to the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, ANOCA from 2015 in Brazzaville, Congo.

The en masse training disguised as a continental multi-disciplinary championships may as well carry on into 2015 if there is no firm decision to transfer the Games organisation next month at the General Assembly of the Supreme Council.

A change of structure could be the only way out to raise the standards of the AAG and ensure Africa's top talents compete at the championships and also attract sponsorships for the Games which could then translate into some prize money for the medalists. Also important would be to have the athletes competing in all the Olympic sports as in other continental Games (in Maputo nine Olympic sports were excluded) just to spice up and flavour a bland dish... make it more palatable for the media and public.

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