All Africa Games return to roots in Republic of Congo
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) The All Africa Games return to their roots on Friday in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, at a cost of nearly $900 million just on new venues.
The Central African nation staged the first games 50 years ago, but because it hasn't hosted any other major sports events since then, there have been fears over whether facilities will be ready and suitable for the roughly 8,000 athletes who will compete in 20 sports and two demonstration events.
Construction on roads and venues was going on as recently as last month, although organizers say they are satisfied that enough has been done for the 15-day games.
The organizers have also had to overcome other obstacles, including getting assurances from electricity suppliers that they will be able to meet demands at the main sports complex newly built by a Chinese construction company on barren land on the northern outskirts of Brazzaville, a city perched on the Congo River. Power outages in Africa are common.
And there's Ebola.
Although Republic of Congo - nestled in the middle of Africa between Gabon and its huge eastern neighbor Congo - has six countries between it and the West African Ebola outbreak, there will be precautions for those traveling to Brazzaville, say organizers.
The city's airport and its main river port, also a common route into the country, will have Ebola screening stations where anyone arriving - competitors, officials, spectators - will have their temperatures taken.
''Any suspected cases will immediately be transferred to equipped facilities,'' organizers said.
Around 4,000 police, including the gendarmerie military police, will provide security, Republic of Congo's director general of police Gen. Jean Francois Ndenguet said.
However, the biggest focus will be the standard of organization at the Kintele Sports Complex and the main 66,000-seat stadium with its brown, tortoise-shaped exterior. That stadium will host soccer and athletics, and was officially opened on Tuesday with a soccer game between Republic of Congo and Ghana.
Republic of Congo has also rushed to finish a 10,000-seat indoor arena, a swimming complex, and the 8,000-bed athletes' village in the same precinct.
Although Nigeria will send 573 athletes and officials, many countries will have small contingents, and most of Africa's top sports stars will be missing from the 11th games, which are close on the heels of the athletics world championships in Beijing.
None of Kenya's gold medalists from Beijing are on its All Africa Games athletics team, which will be led instead by Olympic bronze medalists Thomas Longosiwa in the 5,000 meters and Abel Mutai in the steeplechase. Commonwealth champion James Magut will compete in the 1,500 meters.
Ethiopia will send newly crowned 5,000 world champion Almaz Ayana as its main star.
Wayde van Niekerk, the new 400-meter world champion, was named on South Africa's squad in July but it's unclear if he will make the trip after his breakthrough win last week.
Alongside the likes of athletics, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and tennis, petanque - a form of the French game boules - has been included on the schedule by the former French colony. Republic of Congo had been independent for only five years when it took on the responsibility of staging the first All Africa Games in 1965.
There are also two demonstration events: The combat sport of pharaoh boxing and nzango, a Congolese favorite for women, where two teams line up facing each other and perform rigorous dance routines that are judged by referees.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.