Morocco will be the meeting point for Africa’s sporting youth for the next 11 days after a colourful opening ceremony officially kicked off the 12th edition of African Games at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat on Monday.
However, the 53,000-seater stadium was only half full despite the significance that these games hold to the North African country. Morocco is making a comeback to the games for the first time since 1978 after being banned for political reasons. Furthermore, the successful hosting of these games will further boost the country’s profile in its persistent dream of hosting the World Cup.
The ceremony saw the hosts pull off a dramatic and beautiful impression. Highlights included symbolic presentations based on the country’s culture, weather elements and even Moroccan’s favourite fruit ‘the orange’. The electric atmosphere was aided by animation from hundreds of choreographed drones flown above the stadium.
The ceremony featured athletes from 54 African nations in a parade that saw hosts of the previous edition in 2015, Congo Brazzaville, emerge first with Morocco last to emerge to a raucous applause from local fans. The athletes then stood in front of a replica of the Hassan Tower which is one of the most notable cultural attractions in Rabat.
Rababe Arafi - Moroccan 1,500m triple medallist at the African Games - took the oath on behalf of the athletes.
Prince Moulay Hassan of Morocco pronounced the Games officially open, before the ceremony wrapped up with a celebration of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, whose 56th birthday on Wednesday (August 21) will coincide with the first week of competition at the African Games. All this was capped off by an electrifying fire works display.
A notable theme of the ceremony, and indeed the tournament will be sustainability and preservation. No new venues were built for the purposes of hosting the competition, whose rights Morocco got only six months ago after Equatorial Guinea were stripped. And on a more symbolic note, a virtual flame was lit at the opening ceremony to ensure no fuel was burned.
Over 6,000 athletes will compete in 26 disciplines in the games that run until August 31. Seventeen of these disciplines will double up as Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers. Kenya will look to better her performance from the 2015 games that saw her finish seventh with 32 medals, six being gold.
Competition in football, beach volleyball and judo is already underway while boxing, handball, rowing, snooker and table tennis will start on Wednesday. The official song of the 12th edition is “We Love Africa” by Moroccan-Swedish record producer RedOne featuring Aminux.
Eleven young reporters under the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) program covered the ceremony that lasted two and a half hours.