[dropcap type=”1″]T[/dropcap]he quadrennial African Games will return to its birthplace when the 11th edition of the multi-sports championship begins today in Brazzaville with over 15,000 athletes from 54 countries compete for laurels in 22 sports.
The opening ceremony will witness the display of the rich culture of the Central African nation. According to the organisers, there will be scientific and cultural activities, which was kick-started on Tuesday to welcome participants to the African version of the modern Olympics.
This edition marks the 50th anniversary of the Games, as well as its return to Brazzaville, which hosted the maiden edition in 1965.
To host a befitting championship, modern sport infrastructure have been built at Kintele, a northern suburb of Brazzaville, while the Congolese government has invested more than CFA 400 billions in the tournament, which is a celebration of youth and excellence.
Also, some sports infrastructure have also been restored such as Ornano Stadium, the complex Omni sport of Ouenze, University and Sport Centre of Makelekele, Massamba Debat Stadium where the first edition of the Games took place.
The organisers said they were expecting 80, 000 supporters each day in different sites and it is expected to be followed by 200 million television viewers across the globe.
Since the inception of the games in 1965, Egypt has dominated the tournament having emerged overall winner six times, while South Africa won it thrice with Tunisia claiming the title once in 1978.
Nigeria’s participation in the tournament dated back to 1965 and the best outing recorded by its contingent was in 1965, 1973, 1978 and 2003 when the team finished second.
At the maiden edition, 29 countries competed for honours in 14 sports with over 2500 athletes. This year, there has been in improvement in the number of participating countries and events. In 2011, 53 countries competed in 20 sports, while this year, 54 nations will jostle for laurels in 22 events.
Nigeria’s 544-man contingent will compete in 20 sports which include athletics, football, basketball, wrestling, judo, boxing, swimming, badminton, table tennis and tennis. Others are weightlifting, taekwondo, karate, handball, gymnastics, cycling, volleyball, fencing, para powerlifting, and para athletics.
Before Team Nigeria departed for Congo, President Mohammadu Buhari charged the team not to drop below the second position. However, it is looking unlikely as the team has been hit with series of withdrawal with Blessing Okagbare also announcing her withdrawal yesterday.
The first batch of Nigerian athletes, who got to Brazzaville on Sunday, are already training for their respective events. The technical director the Handball Federation of Nigeria (HFN) and the basketball coach, Sani Ahmed confirmed to NationSport that their players were in top shape and ready to win laurels for the country.