Sports scientist Kamilla Swart-Arries: ′The world would take Africa more seriously′ | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.01.2022

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Sports scientist Kamilla Swart-Arries: 'The world would take Africa more seriously'

Egypt is aiming to host the 2036 Summer Olympics and become the first African country to host the Games. Sports scientist Kamilla Swart-Arries speaks to DW about why awarding the Games to Africa would be a good idea.

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Egyptian Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhy announced earlier this month that his government is planning to submit an official bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 2036 Summer Olympics, saying the endeavor had the support of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA). 

The only serious African bid in recent memory came from Cape Town for the the 2004 Games, which wound up going to Athens. South African sports scientist Kamilla Swart-Arries was involved in Cape Town's unsuccessful bid.

DW: Cape Town was one of the last three finalists for the 2004 Games but lost out to Athens at the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) General Assembly in 1997. Was the time not yet ripe for an African candidate?

Kamilla Swart-Arries: In retrospect, it probably wasn't the right time because South Africa had just left apartheid behind. At least we were given the opportunity to show the rest of the world what Cape Town and South Africa had to offer. Today, in light of my experiences at other Olympic Games, I don't think we would have been ready. South Africa was still isolated and excluded from international sports, including the IOC, so we did not have an Olympic culture. Non-Olympic sports like rugby received the most financial support at the time.

Cape Town

Cape Town Stadium hosted several matches during the 2010 World Cup

Africa is the only inhabited continent that has never hosted an Olympic Games. What do you think are the main reasons?

I think one of the main reasons is the unequal allocation of mega-events to developing countries, which primarily has to do with the IOC's previous requirements for hosting the Games. The large developing countries in particular have many challenges to overcome in terms of infrastructure compared to developed countries. In addition, they have to cope with negative stereotypes. I also think back to my experience at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Even though we ended up hosting the World Cup, there was considerable "Afro-pessimism." 

What negative stereotypes are you referring to?

For one thing, crime, security problems. If you look at the images that are spread around the world about Africa, it's mostly about negative aspects like AIDS or poor, hungry children. The potential of Africa is not seen to the same extent. 

Now Egypt wants to throw its hat into the ring for the 2036 Olympics. How great do you see its chances?

Camilla Swart-Arries

Sports scientist Camilla Swart-Arries

 

The rules of the game have changed, through the IOC's Agenda 2020, for example. I wouldn't say that the playing field is now level, but the rules have changed in such a way that it is more likely for a bid from an African city to be successful. Even though African countries still have limited experience with bids, they seem more determined to make sure that finally the fifth [Olympic - ed.] ring is completed by a city or country from Africa. But it's still a big undertaking. And in my opinion, we're probably better off with more regional bids.

Human rights organizations point out that the human rights situation in Egypt has been deteriorating rather than improving for years. Will the IOC again be treading on thin ice, as it was when it awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi or 2022 to Beijing?

Certainly, this is an issue that needs to be considered. When I talk about challenges specifically regarding Egypt, the main thing that comes to mind is human rights concerns. On the other hand, I'm about seeing the positives in the Games: How can they be used as an opportunity to address problems and correct things?

IOC President Thomas Bach recently described seeing Olympic Games being hosted in Africa as a personal dream of his. He will no longer be in office in 2036, but how important a factor could he be? 

In the geopolitical decision-making process of where these Games go, he could still play a very influential role. For me, it's about the IOC having to do the right thing at some point: If a World Cup can be hosted in Africa, why not the Olympics? Especially given the reforms that the IOC has put in place.

Dakar is to host the 2026 Youth Olympic Games, making Senegal the first African country to do so. What kind of factor could this be?

It's a step in the right direction. Egypt can certainly learn from Dakar with the 2036 Olympics in mind. It's an opportunity to raise awareness of the Olympic spirit and encourage young people to take part in sports. And the fact that Africa is hosting such an Olympic event for the first time is certainly a positive signal. But it's not on the same scale. Summer Games are much more complex than Youth Olympic Games.

A lion approaches an SUV

A stereotypical image of Africa - tourists on Safari in Namibia's Etosha national park

What would it mean for Africa if a mega-event like the Olympics were to be held on the continent in 2036?

It would show what Africa has to offer. For me, it's mainly about the intangible gains, about eliminating the negative stereotypes. Africa is still often seen as a backward continent where lions and other animals roam the streets. The Games would conjure up different images. They have the power to change perceptions and make the world take Africa more seriously.  

South African Kamilla Swart-Arries is a professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar. The 51-year-old sports scientist is an internationally recognized expert on major sporting events. In the 1990s, she was involved in marketing Cape Town's bid to host the 2004 Summer Olympics. She has led research projects for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The interview was conducted by Stefan Nestler.  

This interview was translated from German.