Botswana President Ian Khama officially opened the 2nd African Youth Games at the National Stadium in Gaborone this evening, hailing the unifying power of sport while also urging those present to remember the plight of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria and calling for their immediate release.
Thousands attended the Opening Ceremony in the Botswanan capital, which saw the more than 2,500 athletes from 54 countries across Africa introduced to the crowd as the Games were officially launched.
In his speech at the National Stadium, which will host rugby and football events, Khama welcomed the young competitors and team officials to Botswana for the 10 days of sporting action, stressing the role that sport can play in promoting peace and development and how this relates to Botswana's national principles of democracy, development, unity and self-reliance.
"Sport is one of the most cross-cutting of all development and peace tools," said Khama.
"Through the 2nd African Youth Games, we are unifying the African youth as well as showcasing their talent.
"The Games also provide an important platform for our young people to get to know one another and to cultivate mutual respect for each other and for others in the world we live in.
"As a country, we believe that participation in sport promotes among other things, physical fitness and health, social harmony, nation building and self-reliance.
"We are confident that our visitors will experience our hospitality, humility and above all the unique culture and heritage that we have.
"We have through sport programmes meaningfully engaged young people."
The inaugural African Youth Games took place in Rabat, Morocco in 2010 and Khama thanked the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) for trusting Botswana to stage the second edition of the event, which will see athletes compete across 21 different sports in 13 venues in Gaborone and its surrounding areas.
ANOCA President Lassana Palenfo had earlier presented Khama with the Order of Valuable Contribution to the Olympic Movement during the Ceremony, which was broadcast by South African sports broadcaster Supersport and Botswana Television to an estimated audience of 120 million.
Khama, who was a former commander of the Botswana Defence Force before succeeding Festus Mogae as President in April 2008, also called on all those present in the National Stadium not to forget the plight of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who are still missing after being abducted by Islamist group Boko Haram last month.
The girls were taken from a school in Chibok, in the north-eastern Borno state of Nigeria on April 14 and are thought to be held in a remote forested area of the state, close to the border with Chad and Cameroon.
"As much as we all intend to enjoy ourselves during this event, let us also remember another group of young people in our thoughts and prayers who are the many young girls who were kidnapped by terrorists in Nigeria," urged Khama.
"We hope that they will soon be reunited with their families and return to their education."
The 2014 African Youth Games run through until May 31.
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