Finally. After five attempts, Morocco will host matches at the Football World Cup in 2030. Certainly, the kingdom will not be the sole host of the tournament – ​​there are also Portugal and Spain – but its presence in the organization of this prestigious competition carries with it a symbolic charge: Africa has not been forgotten to perfect a tournament which will then celebrate its centenary.

After South Africa in 2010, another nation on the continent will therefore “unite” part of the world around the beautiful game. It was about time, because this vast territory of 54 countries still remains too neglected by major international sporting bodies. Apart from the World Cup – and the Rugby World Cup in 1995 which took place in South Africa – no edition of the Olympic Games has yet been held in this region of the globe, nor a single athletics world championship.

Strange observation even though Africa is a limitless provider of talent and illustrious legends – such as the Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila, the Malian footballer Salif Keïta and more recently the Cameroonian fighter Francis Ngannou – have participated in writing the most beautiful sports pages. So why such a paradox? Political instability in certain regions and the severe lack of infrastructure are among the reasons given to explain the distrust of the most eminent federations to organize their events there in Africa.

However, this situation is changing because in a continent of 1.2 billion inhabitants – 60% of the population under the age of 24, according to the UN – economic development through sport has become obvious , if not a necessity. Both for countries and for bodies like the International Football Federation (FIFA) which held its congress in Africa in March, for the first time in its history, at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda.

Help with professionalization

For more than two decades now, Morocco has relied on high-end infrastructure to convince major institutions to entrust it with their competitions and, in the process, extend its influence through sport. Before hosting the World Cup in 2030, this country managed to host the FIFA Club World Cup several times (in 2013, 2014 and 2022). A second-rate tournament but which brings together the best teams on the planet like Real Madrid. Thanks to its lawns, the kingdom allows national teams like Burkina Faso – which does not have an approved stadium – to play their “home” match in Marrakech.

In addition, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pay millions of dollars each year to their member federations in order to help them become more professional and participate in financing infrastructure.

Algeria has also embarked on the construction of large stadiums in the hope of organizing international competitions (such as the 2022 Mediterranean Games), as has Senegal. In 2018, this West African country built its Arena, one of the largest in Africa, in Diamniadio, a new town located around forty kilometers from Dakar.

Just opposite, the authorities inaugurated in 2022 – in the presence of several heads of state, notably Turkish and Rwandan – the “Lions’ Den”, its national stadium considered “the most beautiful jewel of the sub-region”, qualified thus by Matar Bâ, then minister of sports. A venue which could one day host an opening match of the African Cup of Nations (CAN).

Retaining talent on the continent

Precisely, another factor makes it possible to accelerate the construction – or upgrading – of infrastructure: applying for this tournament. Indeed, this competition, which takes place every two years, pushes countries wishing to host it to have at least six stadiums. This was the case for Ivory Coast which will host the next CAN (from January 13 to February 11, 2024).

Some succeed in pain like Cameroon (in 2022), others are forced to give it up due to lack of means or political changes like Guinea which saw its publishing organization withdrawn. 2025 to be entrusted to Morocco. The CAN specifications may seem restrictive, but they force States to develop: build roads that connect the stadiums, airports to welcome the public, hotels to accommodate participants and supporters, etc.

Furthermore, the economic challenge is not limited to organizing these large-scale events. In July 2018, Benin, for example, launched the construction of twenty-two multi-sports stadiums meeting international standards to “advance high-level sport throughout the territory,” explains Jimmy Adjovi-Boco. According to the advisor to the Minister of Sports of this country, “having quality infrastructure will help improve national performances in football, basketball, handball, volleyball and athletics,” he hopes.

One of the objectives is to retain talent on the continent so that they do not expatriate to Europe or the United States. Jimmy Adjovi-Boco understood this a long time ago. Twenty years ago, he created – with Patrick Vieira and Bernard Lama – the Diambars Institute, in Saly, south of Dakar, to train the elite of Senegalese football. This type of training center exists elsewhere such as in Ivory Coast.

An impressive success

Countries are also thinking about the well-being of their youth by building fields (football or basketball) in cities. And the emerging middle class also wants to take care of their body in modern gyms. These are multiplying all over the continent. “Investing in sport means avoiding the social bomb of tomorrow,” Matar Bâ summarized to Le Monde. Without forgetting that the practice of sport has made it possible to liberate generations of women, to break clichés and to force men to admit their performances.

Faced with this development, certain organizations are now taking a close interest in Africa. Thus, in 2018, the IOC chose to entrust its fourth Youth Olympic Games to Dakar in 2026 in order to “place [this event] at the heart of the transformation of Africa”. The UFC, the powerful American MMA organization, wants to organize fights in this corner of the world soon. And three years ago, the NBA, the prestigious American championship, launched the Basketball Africa League (BAL), a tournament bringing together teams from twelve countries, in order to create a real industry and make Africa its new playground.

The success is impressive and is starting to give another image of the continent in the world. Africa, land of all “opportunities” as Senegalese Amadou Gallo Fall, president of BAL, said. But before hoping for seemingly unlimited economic and sporting benefits, he recalls that “the investment [is] considerable”.