— Published 21 September 2023

Senegal has the right target for Dakar 2026

The event is still very quiet. It’s being prepared in silence, with the diligence of a beginner. In the Olympic world, that’s never a bad sign. With only three years and a few handfuls of days to go, the 2026 Youth Games in Dakar, Senegal (October 31 to November 13), are quietly putting all the pieces in place to bring the African continent its first-ever Olympic event.

The IOC and the Senegalese organizers met on Wednesday September 20 for the fifth meeting of the Coordination Commission. Like the previous meeting, it was held remotely, in virtual mode. A single half-day of exchanges and work, ending mid-afternoon with a press conference. At the helm were Kirsty Coventry, Chairman of the Coordination Commission, Christophe Dubi, IOC Executive Director of the Olympic Games, and Ibrahima Wade, General Coordinator of the Organizing Committee.

By all accounts, everything is running smoothly. The opposite would have been a scoop. “We’re delighted with the progress made by Dakar 2026 in preparing for the YOG, says Kirsty Coventry. Thanks to initiatives such as the Dakar en Jeux festival, Olympic values and the spirit of the YOG are winning over the hearts of Senegal’s younger generation.”

As Ibrahima Wade repeated to the media, “We work in perfect harmony and coordination with the IOC and its teams. They support and accompany us in all areas of preparation.”

One example: the construction work. The four-year postponement of the event, initially scheduled for 2022, should have given Senegal time to complete the project without any anxiety. But the IOC has made no secret of the fact: the renovation and construction of the competition venues is behind schedule. Worrying? The Olympic body doesn’t think so. “The modernization work is due to start in the first quarter of 2024, notes a press release from Lausanne. The members of the coordination commission have received assurances that the work will be completed on schedule.”

Another example: relations with the international federations of the 35 sports on the program. In Dakar, the Senegalese organizers did not make this a priority. With more than three years to go, they considered the matter to be of little urgency. The IOC assured them otherwise. Since then, meetings have intensified.

As Ibrahima Wade explained, the last ASOIF general meeting in Lausanne was the first opportunity to make initial contacts. “We’ve already met with eight international federations, he explains. We’ll be continuing our discussions in October.”

At the heart of the discussions were the practical aspects of the competitions: athlete quotas, number of events, formats and calendar. A delegation from the International Triathlon Federation (World Triathlon) recently made the trip to the Senegalese capital. They visited Saly, one of the three host cities (along with Dakar and Diamniadio). “Their visit enabled us to adjust the course,” explains Ibrahima Wade.

In Dakar as in Lausanne, the promise is the same: the 2026 Youth Games will be a popular event. The Dakar en Jeux festival, launched last autumn, set the tone, with over 30,000 spectators and 2,000 athletes. The second edition, announced for October 31 to November 4, will add a handful of competitions in athletics, futsal and beach wrestling to the initial program of sports initiations and demonstrations. It will be sponsored by former Kenyan athlete and IOC member Paul Tergat. The opening ceremony, another new feature, will be marked by a competition open to artistic troupes from 14 Senegalese regions.

Another illustration: ticketing. In response to a question from FrancsJeux, Ibrahima Wade explained that paying tickets were not planned, except perhaps for a very limited number of sessions. “We want the YOG to be a popular event, a celebration of youth, he said. But for security reasons and to manage the flow of spectators, you’ll need to be in possession of a ticket, free of charge, to attend the events.”

The organizing committee plans to massively distribute competition tickets to schools and associations. These could be used as rewards for the winners of the Olympic, civic and sports brevet. Launched this year, this educational program dedicated to Olympic values should involve 900,000 pupils and 11,000 schools by 2026.