Things you need to know about the Rabat 2019 African Games
Over 7,000 athletes from all the 54 nations will gather in Rabat for the 12th edition of the African Games (formerly All Africa Games) from 19-31 August.
That will be a record, with the hosts Morocco back competing at the Games after missing the last eight editions.
Athletes will compete for medals across 26 sports, with eyes on leading stars like world steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, Olympic bronze medallist in weighlifting Mohamed Ihab, and Olympic taekwondo gold medallist Cheick Sallah Cisse,
There are also some rising stars seeking to leave their mark at the Games: 2018 Youth Olympics 100m champion Rosemary Chukwuma, and Sunmisola Balogun who became an African wrestling champion at just 16.
Egypt topped the 2015 event held in Brazzaville, Congo, for the fifth time, and are the most successful nation at the Games.
Rabat 2019 is crucial as it will serve as an Olympic qualifier for 15 disciplines.
Read on below for our ultimate guide to everything we think you need to know about the key sports, events, athletes, and stories we'll be covering at the event, which was formerly known as the All-Africa Games (AAG) and sometimes referred to as the Pan African Games. And click here for more coverage throughout the event, which you can watch on Olympic Channel (territorial restrictions may apply).
Morocco back in the fold
It’s a special edition of the African Games for Morocco, who have not competed at the event since 1978.
The North Africans were banned from the Games by the African Union, following a long-standing territory dispute over Western Sahara.
In 2017 Morocco signed a treaty with the AU and pledged to return to the Games.
And a year later, the country agreed to step in as hosts after Equatorial Guinea belatedly pulled out over financial problems.
With just months to prepare, Morocco stand ready to welcome the continent.
“Considering the time we had to organise and welcome all these countries- it is a big operation. It is a challenge that we have embraced, and we will succeed,” Abdellatif Obbad, Rabat 2019 General manager told Radio France International, rfi.
"The African Games must position themselves as continental Games with a place on the world stage. We must not forget that there will be world-class athletes. We must therefore offer them good conditions for competition and accommodation." - Abdellatif Obbad, Rabat 2019 General manager
Morocco will deliver sustainable Games as they will mainly use existing facilities.
“We have facilities that are up to standard and approved. Of course, we have made some improvements, to standardize the venues, as these Games will serve as a qualifying step for Tokyo 2020.” he added.
Athletes villages in Rabat and Casablanca
The International University of Rabat will serve as the main athletes’ village hosting up to 4,000 athletes, with the rest staying in Casablanca.
In Kenitra, 50km from the main host city: women’s football.
Rabat 2019, will see also the return of gymnastics on the Games programme after Brazzaville 2015.
You can find the full schedule on the Rabat 2019 Games site.
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One big difference from recent editions, is that some of Africa’s elite athletes are set to compete at Rabat 2019.
The Association of National Olympic Committees in Africa (ANOCA) is overseeing the Games as the main organiser.
There is the added incentive of the chance to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020 for teams and athletes.
Apart from the leading track and field nations, Ethiopia, South Africa and Kenya, most nations are sending their best athletes to compete at Moulay Abdalla stadium in Rabat.
3000m steeplechase world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, fourth at Rio 2016 is among a large team of 61 picked by Athletics Kenya.
2018 YOG champs for Rabat 2019
The pair are in South Africa's squad of 153 athletes that also includes London 2012 bronze medallist Canoer Bridgitte Hartley and Michael Houlie, flag bearer and gold medallist at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Another YOG 100m champion Rosemary Chukwuma has been included in Nigeria’s team of 47 athletes.
It will be the second senior event for the 17-year-old since Buenos Aires 2018.
She competed at the World Relays in Yokohama after clinching three Gold medals at the African juniors last April.
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Olympic silver medallist Paul Tanui, one of the most consistent track endurance runners in recent history, also made the team, and will line up in the 10,000m.
The Japan based Kenyan runner has his eyes set on Tokyo 2020.
World Champion Julius Yego is going back to where it all began for him.
Yego, who taught himself javelin by watching YouTube videos, got his first big career break at the 2011 African Games in Mozambique.
Since taking silver in Rio, the 29-year-old has struggled with injuries, and failed to defend his world title at London 2017.
He hopes the African Games can help rekindle the spark in his throws.
Africa's fastest on parade
Also watch out for the defending champions Nijel Amos(800m) and Isaac Makwala(400m) from Botswana.
Amos, the Olympic silver medallist from London 2012 is the fastest man this year with his 1:41.89 in Monaco.
Africa’s fastest 400m runner, Aminatou Seyni of Niger, is likely to return to the track where she ran one of her fastest times.
Her 49.19 at the Diamond League meet in Lausanne ranks her as the third fastest woman in the world this year.
The attention in this sport will be on the Olympic medallists, led by Rio 2016 champion Cheick Sallah-Cisse of the Ivory Coast.
He is looking to return to the Olympic mat as the continent’s top qualifier, where he hopes “to be at 500%.”
Cisse won gold at Brazzaville 2015, and the continental event offers him a chance to finish top of the podium after a slow start to the season.
Obame, the London 2012 silver medallist, hopes to make an impact at the Games, where he previously clinched two silvers.
All the three train in Palma de Mallorca with Spain's two-time Olympian Juan Antonio Ramos.
That success at the Olympic Games has made football one of the most popular events at the African Games.
Nigeria's Flying Eagles have been drawn alongside Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Morocco.
Group B has the defending champions Senegal, other African giants Ghana, Mali, and Burundi.
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The draw for the women’s tournament pits two-time winners Nigeria against South Africa, Cameroon, and Zambia in group B.
Hosts Morocco will face Equatorial Guinea, Mali, and Algeria in Group A.
All the women's teams will be sending their U20 squads.
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Up-to 30 countries are expected to feature in the table tennis event with Olympic berths up for grabs.
Three-time African Games champions Omar Assar and Dina Meshref, who currently lead the men and women’s continental rankings, are down to play in Rabat and want to defend their titles from Brazzaville 2015.
Aruna is looking to play at his third Olympics while 43-year-old 'Funke's goal is to “enter the seven club” by competing at her seventh Games in Tokyo.
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The left-handed tennis wonder
But the player attracting the greatest attention from the West African nation currently, is 14-year-old Taiwo Mati.
The unranked left-hander, who is tipped to step into the shoes of Quadri, won two titles on the ITTF junior circuit in Morocco last June.
He qualified first at the African Games trials, and hopes he can match the brilliance of his mentor.
“I guess my strength is being a left-handed player. It is something not too common, just like in football where left-footed players are more dangerous. These are some of the qualities that gave me courage and I hope I can continue to compete at international level.” -Taiwo Mati
“I have taken my time to watch Quadri; he’s very hardworking and humble. He plays with a lot of confidence," he told Nigeria’s Punch.
African giants Cameroon, Kenya, and Egypt are the hot favourites for the women's and men’s titles at the Bouazzaoui arena.
Kenya's women’s squad is aiming to defend their title and win a fifth Games crown, while Egypt, five-time men's trophy winners, are out to regain the title that has eluded the team in the last two editions.
The 2015 men’s champions Algeria are part of the large contingent entered for the Games. Fast rising Rwanda, the bronze medallists four years ago, also have a realistic chance to battle for the podium.
The beach volleyball will see 24 countries competing in pools of four teams each.
Archery makes its debut at the African Games, which will act as a continental qualifier for Tokyo 2020.
The top two ranked individual men and women will gain the quota places for the Olympics.
These four archers will be joined by the top mixed team (1 man + 1 woman).
While the sport has been traditionally viewed as one practised mainly by Egyptians and South Africans, its popularity is growing in East and Central Africa.
Marlyse Hourtou from Chad, a recurve archer, became the first African to manage the highest qualification score at the World championships since it changed to 70m.
The 23 year-old, an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship beneficiary, has set her sights on becoming the first archer from her country to compete at the Olympics.
Gymnastics returns to the African Games for only a second appearance, and there are some exciting entries.
Apart from the traditional African powerhouses Algeria and South Africa, the Nigerians are another team to watch out for at the Avenue Chebanate.
The talented American based Uche Eke is their star athlete.
The Computer Science engineering student at Michigan State University made his debut for Nigeria at an invitational tournament in 2017.
He is now focused on bagging Nigeria’s first gymnastics medal at the Games.
"I think we have great chances to win gold medals in the All Africa Games in Morocco. We should bring back medals and I am targeting gold medals in my three specialties,” the 22-year-old said during a recent visit to Nigeria to meet his teammates.
Eke competes in pommel horse, vault, high bar and on parallel bars.
The weightlifting competition will serve as a continental Olympic qualifier, which means that most nations are expected to send full teams of 10 men and 10 women lifters.
Egypt, Tunisia, and Nigeria were the top teams at Brazzaville 2015 and are likely to dominate proceedings again at the Nahda sports hall in Rabat.
Egypt's most decorated weightlifter of all time, Mohamed Ihab, is going all out to qualify for Tokyo 2020 as he targets an improvement on his bronze from Rio 2016.
"I will continue to compete in the 81kg weight class till the 2020 Olympics," Ihab, the African record holder told Egyptian daily Ahram.
He clinched gold at the 2019 African Championship in Cairo and hopes to replicate his success at the African Games before the World championships in Thailand.
Reigning African and African Games champion Heba Ahmed and Ali Ahmed Sayed Ashour, a world junior champion, are also likely to make Egypt’s team of 20 in Rabat.
Africa’s new breed are expected to serve up a thrilling spectacle at the Sports Hall in El Jadida.
Sunmisola Balogun is already an African champion at just 16.
Sunmisola is also one of the medal contenders for Nigeria which topped the wrestling competition in 2015 with 19 medals (nine gold).
She told Nigeria's ACLsports that she has extra motivation to be an African Games champion:
“I lost my daddy about two years ago, and I had promised him that anytime I have a competition I will always win for him. With that promise, I have to do whatever it takes to win no matter the opposition,” Balogun said.
She will be joined by her experienced teammates - five-time African Odunayo Adekuoroye and Olympian Blessing Oborududu.
Tunisia’s Marwa Amri has been in fine form since clinching bronze at Rio 2016, and she will return to the Games targeting to improve on her third place finish in Brazzaville.
The 30-year-old was the only African medallist in wrestling in Rio.
Top seeds Angola, the 2018 African women's handball champion, has been pooled in group A with Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Nigeria, and Morocco. Angola has won the last three consecutive editions.
Senegal, the runner-up, will face familiar opponents from the Africa Cup: Tunisia, Cameroon, and Algeria. Uganda completes the group.
Six-times African Games gold medallist Egypt will square it out with Morocco, Cameroon, Guinea, and Zambia.
Angola, Algeria, DR Congo, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso are in group B.
Equestrian back after 12 years
Equestrian also returns to the African Games programme after jumping and endurance debuted at Algiers 2007.
Morocco will also serve as Tokyo 2020 qualifiers for badminton, cycling (road and individual time trial), tennis, karate, and shooting.
Another big draw in Morocco should be the fast and spectacular 3x3 basketball.
It’s one of the Olympic Games’ newest disciplines where teams will be looking to garner crucial world ranking points.
The top three teams qualify for Tokyo 2020 based on the November 2019 world ranking list, alongside Japan.
Currently Togo and Uganda are the top ranked African men’s teams in the world sitting at 44th and 46th position.
Uganda were the losing finalists to Cote d’Ivoire at the 2018 Africa Cup.
The women’s top 50 listing has three African teams - Niger, Africa Cup bronze medallists Togo, and Uganda.
Mali are the African champions.
Algeria and Nigeria have the most medals in African Games history.
The two countries are likely to reign supreme at the boxing ring in Sale.
West Africans Ghana and Nigeria have also had success in the African Games boxing ring.
Following the decision to suspend the recognition of the International Boxing Federation, AIBA, the African Games will not serve as an Olympic qualifier.
But it will be a good build-up for the fighters to prepare for what should be highly competitive Tokyo 2020 qualifiers scheduled for January to April 2020.
The number of male boxers for the next Olympics has been reduced from 250 to 186.
Rabat 2019 will see a marked increase in the number of female competitors as they get ready for the Olympic qualifiers. 100 women will line up in Tokyo, up from 36 at Rio 2016.
Olympic Channel coverage of the African Games
We'll be providing coverage before, during, and after the African Games on Olympic Channel. Go to our event page for more details.