By raising their national flags on numerous occasions, young sportspersons have proved to the rest of the world that Africa is not a continent of widespread poverty and illiteracy but a land of confident winners, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Wednesday.
In his message to the 16th African Athletics Championships here, Meles also said the tournament should be taken by all Africans as an opportunity by which the continent’s positive image could be further enhanced.
“In addition to its effect on sports, the 16th African Athletics Championships should be seen as an opportunity where Africans make a solemn oath to work hand in hand in economic and political sectors to ensure our continent’s renaissance,” he added.
Delegations from about 40 African countries took part in the colourful opening ceremony of the championships at Addis Ababa Stadium.
Despite a sudden downpour that punctuated a long dry spell, school children performed callisthenics as the packed stadium cheered and a military brass band played rhyming music.
Meanwhile, Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) president, Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, said the body had decided to pay a special tribute to Ethiopia as a country that had given to Africa and the world exceptional athletic champions.
Among the champions, Malboum mentioned Abebe Bikila, Miruts Yifter, Mamo Wolde, Haile Gebreselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Derartu Tulu, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar.
“This is a country that has always endeavoured to promote the highest standards of athletics in Africa and the world,” he said.
Lamine Diack, president of the International Amateur Athletics Association (IAAF ), who attended the ceremony, said that the championships would produce some excellent performances, particularly those who were using the event to fine-tune their preparations for the Beijing Olympics later this year.
“The continuing success of African athletics is due to the work of national federations under the leadership of the CAA, with the close support of the IAAF, whose strategy of long term development continues to bear fruit,” said Diack.