BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Africa’s version of the Olympic Games begin this Monday as the opening ceremony of the 12th African Games holds in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco.
Significantly, it is the first time hosts, Morocco will be featuring after the kingdom’s politically motivated absence in the past 41 years.
Morocco last featured at the third edition in Algiers in 1978 and consequently had to step out following dispute with the then OAU (now African Union) over territorial claims to Western Sahara.
Morocco signed a treaty with the African Union in 2017, before agreeing to step in as hosts of the Games when Equatorial Guinea pulled out over financial problems last year.
“Considering the time we had to organise and welcome all these countries- it is a big operation,” Rabat 2019 general manager Abdellatif Obbad said, as reported by Radio France International monitored by Inside the Games.
“It is a challenge that we have embraced, and we will succeed.”
More than 7,000 athletes from 54 nations are expected in Rabat. This indeed a record number making it the largest ever.
The Games have unofficially commenced since Friday when some team events such as football, volleyball and judo, among others have commenced. Some events have even already concluded and medals awarded.
As at Sunday night, the traditional table-toppers, Egypt are already ahead following a pre-opening ceremony haul of four gold and four silver medals. Other countries already on the medals’ table are: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Gabon and Cameroon.
Also on the medals table are: Senegal, Cameroon, South Africa, Mauritius, Chad Congo and Djibouti.
The more than 7,000 athletes will participate across 26 sports, The Games end on August 31.
Some events will also serve as qualifying tournaments for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. These include: athletics, rowing, canoeing, karate, swimming, weightlifting, beach volleyball, tennis, cycling, judo, wrestling and taekwondo.
Others in which competitors also aim for places at the Olympics are: table tennis, fencing, sports shooting, archery, badminton and triathlon.
Star names include World Championships 3,000 metres steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya,Rio 2016 Olympic weightlifting bronze medallist Mohamed Ihab of Egypt and reigning Olympic men’s under-80 kilogram taekwondo champion Cheick Sallah Cisse of Ivory Coast.
A number of young athletes are expected to make their mark on the competition, including Buenos Aires 2018 Summer Youth Olympics 100 metre champion Rosemary Chukwuma of Nigeria.
Egypt will aim to top the medal table for the sixth time, having done so at the 2015 edition in Brazzaville after claiming 85 gold medals, 63 silver and 68 bronze. Nigeria only topped the table once at the 2003 in Abuja.