Egypt’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) says “it is time for Africa” as it tries to become the first country on the continent to host the Olympic Games.
On 24 September, Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave governmental backing to a possible bid while International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was visiting the country.
“We’re preparing the letter to [the] IOC, with our intention to present a bid for the 2036 Olympic Games,” NOC secretary general Sharif El Erian told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s time for Africa. It’s the only continent that did not host the Summer Olympic Games, and I think Egypt is one of the few countries in Africa where the infrastructure is ready from today to host such a huge event.”
A statement issued by the Egyptian cabinet said that IOC president Bach had “asserted that Egypt’s sporting infrastructure gives it an opportunity to host the 2036 Olympic Games”.
A guest of the country’s sports ministry, Bach had been visiting the 92-acre complex that will be named the Olympic City, to be built in the so-called New Administrative Capital currently under construction some 40 kilometres east of the existing capital Cairo.
Work on the Olympic Stadium, which started in 2019 and which will be Africa’s second biggest sports stadium, is at an advanced stage, with El Erian saying that many facilities are already ready to go.
“The only thing that needs to be built is the Olympic Village, but winning the bid comes more than seven years before the actual Games,” explained El Erian.
“So if we do win the bid, we have enough time to build a state-of-the-art Olympic Village.”
Egypt, which has hosted several continental and global events such as the Africa Cup of Nations and World Handball Championship in recent years, had been considering a bid for the 2032 Games.
Yet Brisbane was announced as host last year before any Egyptian intention had been made, with organisers less keen after the coronavirus pandemic delayed a proposed visit by Bach to the north African nation originally set for 2020.
“We know that we have to act now,” El Erian said, even though the formal bidding process is still some years away from beginning.
“We know we have competition from five to six other countries who have put their intention that they would also love to host, but we are confident that our bid will be one of the strongest.”
Other countries with cities reported to be interested in hosting the 2036 Games are Germany, India, Mexico, Qatar, Turkey and Russia.
“I have to calm people down”
Since governmental backing was given to the 2036 bid, the enthusiasm among Egyptians for hosting the Games has been so great that some believe the Games have already been awarded.
In reality, Egypt’s NOC is working on the assumption that no decision will come before the next Games, in Paris, in 2024 but will be made before the end of the decade.
“The population are so happy – the media, everyone is talking about it,” says El Erian.
“I’m trying to calm the people down, saying we did not win the bid yet, but some people think we already won it and they are celebrating the fact Egypt will host it.
“Nothing can be 100% – you will find some opposition, of course – but let’s say 99% of the population will be backing it. We love sports and the Olympics is the biggest event in the world.”
The decision will ultimately be only the second awarded under the IOC’s revised process where the Future Host Committee engages in targeted dialogue with selected countries in an aim to reduce unnecessary expenditure on bidding.
Should Egypt get to host the Games, which El Erian has been working on for many years, he believes it will restore the country’s fortunes after a spell when its reputation was clouded by revolutions, political turmoil and civil instability.
In contrast to the cost of staging many Olympics, Egyptian authorities believe the event could propel the economy and tourist industry in Egypt given the existing facilities and expected number of people going to watch any Games.
“It will be the best thing ever for Egypt,” says El Erian. “It will boost tourism, for sure, and will give a positive look and idea of Egypt.
“It will boost the economy too, especially since we have the infrastructure in place. We are not going to spend billions getting ready for this Olympics – no, Egypt is ready.”
Egyptian security has long been a question mark, particularly since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled by the Arab Spring in 2011, before a coup overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely-elected president, two years later.
In 2014, the Islamic State group intensified its insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula while an explosion targeting a tourist bus in Cairo in 2019 injured at least 16 people.
Incidents have calmed down in recent years, prompting El Erian to declare Egypt as “extremely stable” at present.
“Everything has been back to normal for many years now. Safety-wise, Egypt is an extremely safe country. Tourism, infrastructure, everything is in place – so why not go for it?”
The Egyptians have bid for three previous Olympics (1916, 1936 and 2008), with South Africa – in 2004 – the only other African country to have also tried.
The next three summer Games are scheduled to be in Paris in 2024, Los Angeles in 2028 and Brisbane in 2032.