The centerpiece of the eighth All Africa Games is the new national stadium in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. The 60-thousand seat stadium was officially opened in April.
Many Nigerians have criticized the new stadium as a misplacement of government funds. Construction costs have ranged from 340-million dollars to as much as 480-million dollars. Was it money well spent in a country where the World Bank says 70% of the people live on less than one dollar a day?
The state of the art stadium is indeed impressive. At night, its lights glitter from a distance. Fireworks and laser beams highlighted some of its features Saturday night during a four-hour opening ceremony for the All Africa Games.
Tony Eke, a media officer for the organizers of the Games, COJA, talks about some of the stadium's features.
He says, "The main bowl is all covered -- all covered seats, the first in Nigeria. Probably one of the best in Africa. I don't know if there is any other stadium that is covered all around. I know we have beautiful stadiums scattered here and there in Africa. But it's a pride to the average African. We have a tartan track. We have seats well-numbered and well laid out. And we have the field well-secured with very low perimeter fence."
The field that Tony Eke describes will be where the men's and women's soccer finals will be played at the All Africa Games. Nearby the main stadium are some other new facilities built specifically for the Games, including an indoor sports hall for basketball and a velodrome for cycling and other events.
While the new stadium sparkles now, both officials and citizens have expressed concern that maintaining its appearance will be a key issue in the next few years. Many public buildings here in Nigeria, including the national stadium in Lagos, suffer from disrepair and poor management. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who officially opened the Games Saturday night, has called for the need to maintain the stadium as a way of attracting bigger events to the country in the future.