— Published 28 March 2023

“A unique event and atmosphere”

Four months. To the day. In sixteen weeks, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will host the ninth edition of the Francophone Games in its capital, Kinshasa (28 July to 6 August).

Initially scheduled for 2021, and postponed twice, the sporting and cultural event is now starting the final lap of its long-delayed preparations. It recently acquired three ambassadors, former footballer Lilian Thuram, basketball player Diandra Tchatchouang and former table tennis player Sarah Hanffou (photo above). The last of the trio has participated twice in the Francophone Games, for two different countries. She answered FrancsJeux’ questions.

FrancsJeux: What do the Francophone Games mean to an athlete?

Sarah Hanffou: For many, the first major multi-sport competition at international level. It is also the only one where sport and the arts are mixed together. Finally, the Francophone Games are the biggest event where the French language and culture are brought together in all their diversity. The athletes are often young, they are discovering all this. But they do not forget.

Is the event comparable to any other event on the international sporting calendar?

No, I don’t think so. I had the opportunity to take part in the Commonwealth Games during my career as a table tennis player under the Cameroonian colours. But the atmosphere there is very different, not at all comparable to that of the Francophone Games. It’s about sport, only sport. At the Olympic Games, the priority is performance. At the Francophone Games, the mix of sport and culture creates something unique and very special. The youth of the participants also contributes to this atmosphere.

What was your personal experience of the event?

I took part in two editions, in 2005 in Niamey, Niger, and four years later in Beirut, Lebanon. My father is Cameroonian and my mother French, so these two experiences were lived under the colours of two different countries. The 2005 Francophone Games were a milestone in my career. I was part of the French delegation, making my international debut in the senior category. The following year, I created the Ping sans Frontières association, the idea of which came to me through contact with other athletes and delegations in Niamey. In 2009, I changed colours and took part in the competition for Cameroon. This was my first international experience with this country. It allowed me to discover the African vision of the French-speaking culture. It was a very enriching human adventure. All the beauty of these Games.

Why did you become an ambassador for the 2023 edition in the DRC?

It seemed very natural to me, like an obvious choice. I have participated twice in the event, for two different countries, one European, the other African. My association was created following my experience of the Games in 2006, under the French colours. Ping sans Frontières is very involved in Africa. The Francophone Games brought me a lot. I take on this role with great commitment and motivation. I want to spread the word about this unique event and what it can bring, especially to young athletes.

Will your association be directly involved in the 2023 Games in Kinshasa?

Yes. At the Francophone Games, it is not uncommon to see African players arriving without equipment, or with equipment unsuited to high-level competition. We are currently trying to identify the needs of federations and table tennis players. Once there, we will certainly provide help with equipment, but we will also try to go further by supporting projects: training camps, coach training, etc. With Ping sans Frontières, we use table tennis as a tool for the development of the activity in all its forms.

Can the 2023 Games of La Francophonie in Kinshasa be a turning point for the DRC?

I hope so. This is the role and responsibility of sporting events of this magnitude. The Games must leave a legacy, they can change the place of sport in society. School sport, health sport… They will leave the country with sports infrastructures. The DRC will be able to and should continue to use them, not only for its sports projects but also for the general public.