“Dakar en Jeux” lights up Senegal four years ahead of Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026
The Dakar en Jeux festival has brought a week of celebration to the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) host areas of the first Olympic event on the African continent. A series of events created by and for young people, including sports initiations and demonstrations, music concerts and cultural activities, took place in the Senegalese cities of Dakar, Diamniadio and Saly.
Over eight days, more than 1,500 athletes took part in 26 sports initiations and demonstrations. Alongside the sporting elements, around 30 artists performed at numerous concerts and cultural activities. In total, tens of thousands of people attended the festivities in Dakar, Diamniadio and Saly, kicking off a series that will see the festival take place every year until the YOG in 2026.
The spectacle began in Saly, where more than 500 young local people gathered to experience a range of different sports on the beach such as swimming, beach wrestling and beach rugby. These initiations were followed by the opening-day concert that officially started the festivities, with a crowd of over 10,000 people.
Kirsty Coventry, the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for Dakar 2026, said: “Dakar en Jeux has been incredible. You feel the love and the energy that people in Senegal have for the outdoor lifestyle: being on the beach, entertaining, having fun with the kids and dancing. Their energy is so high, and it is a real insight into what we’ll see in 2026.”
She continued: “With this festival, we’re hoping to lead into 2026 with more connectivity between people, more people coming together and understanding what the Games are, learning new sports, making new friends and bringing about unity.”
Many sports activities took place throughout Dakar en Jeux, introducing the participants to sports such as badminton, judo, roller skating and fencing. Local athletes and YOG hopefuls showed their talents in wushu, a combat sport which will be making its YOG debut in 2026. A cycling event also brought together around 200 cyclists, who took part in a unique 34km rally on the main roads between the Dakar train station and Diamniadio town hall.
A slam poetry evening was part of the cultural activities, providing rhyme enthusiasts with a platform to interact and express themselves artistically through verbal battles. In addition, the festival provided the occasion to officially unveil the frescoes of local graffiti artists along a 100-metre wall at the Dakar train station, paying a tribute to Senegalese athletes and drawing inspiration from the Olympic values. At the unveiling ceremony, Senegalese basketball legend and Sydney 2000 Olympian Mame Maty Mbengue shared her enthusiasm and hope for the younger generation:
“It’s a great honour to inaugurate this mural wall, and I’m speaking for all the Olympians when I say that we’re asking the new generation to follow in our footsteps,” she said. “I wish all athletes the very best for the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026,” she added.
The festival concluded on Saturday with a celebratory concert at the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, with performances by Senegal’s most popular rappers and artists.
Wrapping up the celebrations, Ibrahima Wade, the General Coordinator for Dakar 2026 said: “Dakar en Jeux gave us a taste of what it’s going to be like to organise the next editions in 2024 and 2025 and, of course, the big celebration with the Youth Olympic Games in 2026. By hosting this YOG edition, Africa will open itself up to the world and to the universal spirit of the Olympic Games. This will certainly be the first step towards future Olympic Games on the African continent.”
Held on the dates when the 2022 YOG were originally due to take place, before the Games’ postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this yearly festival is a key engagement initiative of the Dakar 2026 Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee (YOGOC), and aims to promote Dakar 2026 while also encouraging local young people to get involved and promote the distinct Senegalese brand of respect and hospitality, “teranga”.
The festival, organised for, by and with young people, involved over 300 young volunteers and was delivered by the Dakar 2026 YOGOC in partnership with the Senegalese Olympic Committee (CNOSS), the City of Dakar, the Communes of Saly and Diamniadio, the Senegalese government and the International Olympic Committee.
The YOGOC plans to stage the Dakar en Jeux festival each year in the build-up to Dakar 2026.
IOC also photo