Is African Games worth the investment?
The government invested $195m in infrastructure, including the University of Ghana Stadium, the venue of the opening ceremony and athletics events.

Is African Games worth the investment?

As Ghana gears up to host the continent's version of the Olympic Games, questions loom large over the hefty investment of over $240 million into an event that seemingly lacks economic viability. 

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With the country grappling with economic challenges, the decision to host the 13th African Games raises eyebrows and sparks debate among Ghanaians and economic observers alike.

Amidst the anticipation and euphoria surrounding the official opening ceremony scheduled for Friday, Ghana finds itself in the global sporting limelight as it prepares to host the prestigious continental event for the first time since its inception in 1965.

After five years of meticulous preparation, having built facilities at Borteyman, University of Ghana and renovated some existing infrastructure for 29 different sporting disciplines for the three-week competition, the nation stands poised to demonstrate its prowess in organising and hosting a world-class sporting extravaganza. 

Organised on the theme "Experience the African Dream," Accra is being transformed into a bustling hub of sporting activity as over 3,000 elite athletes from 44 different countries push the limits of their abilities to compete for glory and a piece of sporting history from March 8 to 24, even though competition in disciplines like table tennis and badminton commenced on Monday.

The African Games provide Ghana with an opportunity to showcase the country's diverse culture to the rest of the world during the opening ceremony on Friday (March 8), with an anticipated two billion TV and online viewers during the three-week festival. 

From a sporting sense, the 13th African Games is very significant as a unique opportunity to strategically transform the country's sporting landscape for years to come.

It has provided an impetus for the government of Ghana to commit $195 million to the construction of the Borteyman Sports Complex, a first-class facility which boasts an aquatic centre with a 10-lane swimming pool, two indoor sport halls, a tennis court, among others.

It will be at the heart of the action as it hosts more than 10 sporting disciplines during the games. 

In addition, the completion of the University of Ghana Stadium which hosts the opening ceremony and the venue for track and field competitions, a new rugby field at Legon, renovation of the Achimota Cricket Oval and other selected venues, has greatly boosted the country's sporting infrastructure and revived many sporting disciplines which hitherto attracted little attention and support from the state and corporate organisations.

Opportunities for talents

Hosting the African Games has provided opportunities for talents from a wide field with Ghana sending a contingent of over 500 athletes to compete in disciplines, inculding including Armwrestling, Athletics, Badminton, Basketball (3x3), Beach volleyball, Boxing, Cricket, Cycling, Diving, Field Hockey, Football, Handball, Judo, Karate-do, Netball, Rugby sevens, Squash, Swimming, Table tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling, and demonstration sports such as E-sports, Mixed Martial Arts, Pickleball, Teqball, Scrabble, and Speed-ball. 

For Ghanaian athletes and those from other competing nations, the significance of these games extends far beyond mere competition.

With seven designated Olympic qualifying events, athletes will have the opportunity to secure their slots at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, adding an extra layer of intensity beyond the quest for medals.

Ghana may not rank among the continent's top performers in the history of the African Games, with traditional heavyweights like Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Algeria expected to dominate this time.

However, as hosts, there will be pressure on Ghanaian athletes to excel and compete favourably for a share of the medal haul, especially in disciplines such as football, boxing, wrestling, armwrestling, hockey and athletics where stars such as Benjamin Azamati and Joseph Paul Amoah have high potential to win medals.

While Ghana has hosted football's Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in 1963, 1978, 2000 (co-hosted with Nigeria) and more recently in 2008, the financial implications of hosting the African Games is enormous and pose great challenges for host countries.

Financial implications

Last week, the Member of Parliament for the North Tongu Constituency, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, questioned the propriety of spending $48 million on operations during the tournament far in excess of the amount Parliament approved for the Local Organising Committee (LOC).

The MP had previously questioned Ghana's budget and expenditure for the just-ended Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d'Ivoire in the face of the country's economic challenges.

While the Executive Chairman of the LOC, Dr Kwaku Ofosu-Asare, has given an assurance of transparency and accountability, the cost of hosting an estimated 13,000 participants, comprising 5,000 athletes, 3,000 technical officials, 3,000 volunteers, and 2,000 guests, can be mind-boggling.

Yesterday, the minister of Youth and Sports, Mustapha Ussif, provided clarity on the investment in infrastructure and a breakdown of the $47.7m operational budget for the LOC.

"The estimated amount of $47,712,853.65 is designated to cover the operations of the LOC. These operations include technical meetings with TCAG, preparation of relevant guidelines, rules, regulations, and manuals, sensitisation efforts, payment games management system, accommodation for participants (including athletes, volunteers, and officials), internal transportation, airfare for officials, catering services, security, allowances, accreditation, medical equipment, athlete medals, office rent, logistics, equipment purchase, anti-doping services, and allowances for members," Mr Ussif said at a press conference. 

He further highlighted that unlike football tournaments like the AFCON, where accommodation costs for teams are covered by the Confederation of African Football, the host country is responsible for covering the hotel bills of all participating football teams at the 13th African Games, which is also included in the budget.

Unlike the highly-profitable FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games which generate huge revenues through corporate sponsorships and TV rights, as well as strong inflows of tourists, the growing cost of hosting multi-sports events like the African Games, and to some extent the Commonwealth Games, is becoming less attractive for countries, especially those facing economic challenges and without adequate sporting infrastructure to cater the various disciplines.

When the curtains are drawn on the 13th African Games, the full cost implications of hosting the three-week extravaganza and its attendant legacy issues would provide a lot of debate about the socio-economic benefits and the prudence in staging an event of this scale at a time the country is grappling with serious financial challenges.

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