Time is speeding up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In less than two months, the capital Kinshasa will host the 9th edition of the Games of La Francophonie (28 July to 6 August 2023). An event of unprecedented scope and scale for the most populous country in the French-speaking world.
France will be one of the countries best represented in the DRC. Daniel Zielinski, head of the French delegation, spoke to FrancsJeux about France’s ambitions, the challenges facing the event and its prospects.
FrancsJeux: What will the French delegation to the 2023 Games of La Francophonie look like?
Daniel Zielinski: There will be between 60 and 80 people, including the staff. Unlike previous editions, France will have a strong presence in the cultural competitions. It will even be represented in all the disciplines of the cultural part of the Games. Finding young artists and selecting them was not easy, because it is not possible to approach a federation, as is the case in sport. We had to look for them individually, using social networks and working through the whole cultural and associative fabric. But the result is very promising. On the sporting front, we will be present in women’s basketball, judo and wrestling.
What will be the strengths of the French delegation?
On the sporting front, the chances of medals will be high in all disciplines. In wrestling, the competition from the African countries promises to be very strong. The women’s basketball team won the gold medal at the last Games of La Francophonie, in 2017 in Abidjan. It will be aiming for the double with a good chance of success. In the cultural competitions, the selection is of a very high standard, particularly in creative dance and giant puppets. We found some really interesting young troupes.
What does this event mean for a country like France?
The combination of sport and culture is highly original. It’s even unique in the French-speaking world. It gives the event its strength and is one of its main attractions. What’s more, the Games of La Francophonie are often the first international competition for many young French athletes, a competition where they don’t encounter any language problems. The Games encourage exchanges, meetings and discussions. Last but not least, they are often an opportunity to discover new talent. For artists, winning a medal can give a career a boost. The winners are then helped by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), providing them with support and guidance, a rare opportunity in the French-speaking world. As for the sporting side of things, the federations don’t always send the big names, but rather young people with great potential. It’s worth noting that 110 medallists at the Tokyo 2020 Games had won medals at the Games of La Francophonie earlier in their careers. These young hopefuls are discovering a whole new world, in conditions that are often very different from competitions in the West. In Kinshasa, for example, they won’t be staying in a 3-star hotel, but at the university. It’s a unique and very interesting experience.
With less than two months to go, do you think the DRC will be ready?
I think it will be. The crossing points will be ready. But not everything will be finalised. For the DRC, hosting the Games of La Francophonie is a huge challenge. The country has never organised an event of this scale and dimension. Three thousand people attending over 12 or 13 days, more than twenty different venues… The Congolese wanted to do everything very well and very quickly. They built new facilities, with the desire to leave a legacy. At the university, the rooms have been renovated. Fibre optic cables will soon be installed. But the difficulties have been considerable. France, like other countries, has tried and is still trying to help. We are supporting them, particularly in terms of medical care and security. Our medical team for the Games will be a little bigger, and not just for the French.
With the Paris 2024 Games just a year away, are the Games of La Francophonie taking on a special dimension, particularly in terms of sporting diplomacy?
The two successive postponements of the event have not made things any easier. The green light for the 2023 Games of La Francophonie in the DRC was not given until November 2022. But a lot of great things are going to be put in place for the Francophonie at the Paris 2024 Games. An agreement is due to be signed between the OIF and the OCOG. It includes plans to showcase the winning artists from the 2023 Games of La Francophonie at next year’s Cultural Olympiad in Paris. An exchange on volunteers is also planned. I hope that these initiatives will survive after the Olympic and Paralympic Games. But 2024 will not just be dominated by the Games. In October and November, France is also due to host the Francophonie Summit. This can help to extend the Olympic momentum by putting in place a genuine Francophone sports policy.