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HomeGeneralFRANCOPHONIE GAMES 2023: DRC Races Against Time

FRANCOPHONIE GAMES 2023: DRC Races Against Time

Some 3,000 athletes from about 30 countries are set to arrive in DR Congo’s capital over the next few days ahead of the July 28 kickoff.

But painters, technicians and other workers are still rushing to prepare venues, and some participants have pulled out due to concerns over facilities and security.

Rehearsals for the opening ceremony have nonetheless begun in the Stade des Martyrs stadium, which AFP toured during a guided visit with journalists and foreign ambassadors on Thursday.

“It’s a bit last-minute,” commented one visitor, who predicted however that the Games would go ahead.

Initial fears that the 10-day event will be called off appear to have abated.

The DRC was chosen in 2019 as host of the ninth Francophone Games, an event held every four years which combines both sport and culture.

DR Congo has had to build a range of new venues for the Games.

The Games were originally scheduled to take place in 2021, but were postponed because of the Covid pandemic and were then delayed again last year because the facilities were not ready.

Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula told reporters Thursday that pulling together the finances to host an international sporting event is difficult “when you’re a country at war”.

Armed groups plague much of the east of the vast nation, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s.

One such group, the M23, has captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province since re-emerging from dormancy in late 2021, and displaced over a million people.

Money

Merely hosting the games will cost in the tens of millions of dollars, but impoverished DRC has also had to build venues for basketball, tennis and judo, lay down new surfaces for football and athletics and spruce up long-neglected stadiums.

In a smaller stadium near the Stade des Martyrs, the running track was brand new.

African wrestlers training at the Tata Raphael stadium as work pushes ahead to finish the venue before the July 28 opening ceremonies.

Like other Congolese athletes, 21-year-old sprinter Francoise was delighted that her country was bringing in modern facilities.

But as she sat on the ground beside the track, her feet ached. “I usually run on clay. I have to get used to it,” she said.

Troubles over finances and organisation are not unique to the DRC. This week, the Australian state of Victoria pulled out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, citing huge ballooning costs.

Nearby, Kinshasa’s Tata Raphael stadium lies in a state of disrepair, a far cry from its 1974 heyday, when it hosted a legendary boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

The stadium is due to become a “sports village”, according to the organising committee director, Isidore Kwandja.

Work here has been slower than at the Stade des Martyrs, but Kwandja was confident that everything would be ready on time.

Health and safety
Concerns about inadequate health facilities, as well as security, have already prompted some delegations to call off their participation in the Games, or send much-reduced teams.

The Canadian province of Quebec, for example, has pulled out.

Stung, Congolese authorities have repeatedly insisted that facilities will be ready on time and that the games will be safe.

Security forces are already deployed to the various sporting facilities across the city.

Although a planned health clinic hasn’t yet been opened, all the equipment is in place, the organising committee said.

And on Thursday, the group of journalists and ambassadors was shown half a dozen new ambulances that have been commissioned.

Credit: France24

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