Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Will Africa Ever Host the Olympics?

In my former career as an event planner I thought I had seen it all.  There were a lot of close calls and a few dicey situations which would make even the calm, cool and collected sweat.  Over the years I was pepper sprayed in the face, knocked unconscious, had toes broken, broke up a fight between two rappers who pulled knives (and then guns) on one another, almost had a horse fall off a stage (with a famous country singer on his back), had an elephant die 20 minutes before we opened the doors to a show with several thousand people waiting outside, found a dead body, assisted with a hostage situation and convinced the Las Vegas Police Department NOT to arrest Ted Nugent when he brought a gun into a casino.  I’m sure there are others which I am forgetting, but these stick out as most memorable.  In retrospect, these were a cake walk compared to my current project.

Right now Gaborone is gearing up to host the 2014 African Youth Games.  Between May 22 and 31, we will play host to about 2,500 youth athletes from all 54 African countries who will be competing in 21 different sports.  No, bobsledding is not one of the sports.  Thankfully it looks like we won’t have the challenges Sochi had during the Olympics.  We will just have slightly different challenges.

Since Gaborone is less than four hours driving distance from Johannesburg, South Africa, the host of the 2010 World Cup, the city hoped to cash in on the close proximity.  So in 2008 (two years before the 2010 World Cup) Botswana decided to renovate its National Stadium.  The plan was to have the stadium available for practice sessions and scrimmages for teams arriving in Africa early.  The renovation was finally completed in October (of 2013).  Welcome to Africa! Better late than never.  Thankfully the poor planning for the 2010 renovation is now benefitting the 2014 event.

One of the fortunate things about the Youth Games is that we aren’t building any new facilities.  We are using several venues on the UB campus, the National Stadium and other national arenas, the Gaborone Golf Club and the Gaborone Dam.  There is a slight possibility those last two venues could be a challenge though.  I don’t know how the handicaps are calculated when the monkeys steal your golf balls and warthogs don’t repair their own divots.  I suspect the dam will also prove problematic.  Last week I mentioned the dam is at less than 10% capacity.  I have to believe rowing through mud will take a lot more upper body strength than rowing through water.  And with 85 days to go we will likely have significantly less water in the dam by the time the games begin.

A student recently asked if I thought any African country would ever host the Olympics.  I hate to be the downer, but I told her realistically I didn’t think it would happen.  Months ago I had asked a friend who was on the 2010 South African World Cup committee if SA would consider an Olympic bid.  He said absolutely not.  And after seeing the limitations in trying to plan something much smaller like the 2014 African Youth Games, I can’t imagine any African country being prepared to host something larger.  There has been a lot of speculation about what will come of the infrastructure built specifically for the Sochi Games.  Countless former Olympic hosts have been unable to utilize their facilities after the games, leading to venues either falling into disrepair or being completely abandoned.  In fact there are currently talks going on regarding demolishing the Cape Town stadium which was used during the World Cup since it costs more than tenfold to maintain it annually than it generates in income.

There is speculation that the U.S. will put in a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which would make it more than two decades in between hosting.  Of course, the International Olympic Committee is more concerned with awarding the games to new, up and coming destinations which have never hosted.  This means the U.S. could be knocked out of the running rather quickly.  Maybe that will be my next event, once we wrap the 2014 Gaborone Games of course.


  1. I give up. Who is the girl on the horse??

    1. It's either Faith Hill or Shania Twain, I forget. It was for an event I did at Paris.