This is not my first rodeo – although it is a first in Morocco. It’s also the first time Morocco are in the African Games since 1978 with Rabat and Casablanca hosting the event, writes GARY LEMKE in Rabat.
It’s the seventh time South Africa are competing at the showpiece, typically a multi-code event that shines a light on the continent’s stars of tomorrow and those looking to qualify for the ‘big brother’, the Olympics.
Things are still relatively quiet on the ground, with the advance guard of team management, medical personnel and logistics staff paving the way for the athletes to settle in immediately when they arrive. It’s a smaller TeamSA squad than usual, given financial constraints that have been transparently aired over the past months, but for many it still represents the high point of their careers.
I arrived in Rabat in a group of three, along with the head of physios staff Sarah Ferguson, and a colleague of hers also from Durban, the effervescent Avi Lukhan, but only after a long, stop-start – mainly stop – journey up the coast from Casablanca to the athletes village at the University of Rabat, accompanied by Team Nigeria athletes in a crowded minibus.
Obviously, I reminded them that we were still smarting from losing the Afcon quarter-final against them, although they seemed more peeved that they were subsequently defeated in the semi-finals. ‘Beating South Africa was no achievement. The Super Eagles are a poor team these days,’ a giant of a judo man, even more intimidating because he looks like Mr T but without the bling, glared at me. Should I agree with him? I chose to make one of those emojis, elbows tucked in, palms to the sky.
We did go through a handful of toll plazas on the 130km trip in the heat of the day – and here, people actually stop and pay their toll fees, although the policeman on the motorcycle escorting us, complete with one blue light struggling to be seen in the sun, did manage to navigate himself around the booms without alarm.
Speaking of sky, there’s not a cloud to be seen anywhere, nor come to think of it, is there any beer. They say that ‘‘n Boer maak ’n plan’, so the trick is for some creatives to come through in this (non-athlete’s) time of need in the coming weeks.
They also say that don’t come to someone’s house and not make an attempt to speak their language, although it has to be said that very few locals here have knowledge of English, with most fluent in Arabic and French. Using Google Translate – which was suggested by TeamSA’s chef de mission Desiree Vardhan – seems to be working wonders for some in making ourselves understood, ‘simply’ typing a few words into the mobile phone, having Google translate and ‘voila’. There, ‘voila’, another expression on the way to French fluency.
However, it’s been some 24 hours since arriving in Morocco and therefore there’s not that much to report just yet. However, they also say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression and in that case these 12th African Games are in good hands. They’ve missed out on hosting the Fifa World Cup three times – including to South Africa in 2010 – but I reckon that they’ll use a successful African Games to launch another bid for the showpiece.
Photo: Athletes Village at University of Rabat