Philip Barker ©ITG

It is not without a certain irony that Africa will become the last of the five continents to stage a sporting event under the Olympic banner.

In 1914, a flag with the five interlocking rings which symbolise the continents was first flown on African soil. It happened in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where a ceremony was held in the Chatsby Stadium to celebrate 20 years since the decision to revive the Olympic Games was made.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach borrowed a phrase from Shakira's 2010 World Cup song to insist "it's time for Africa" when his Executive Board recommended Senegal's capital Dakar as the 2022 Youth Olympic Games hosts. 

At one stage that "time" seemed certain to come after the First World War.

When the IOC gathered in Rome for their 1923 Session, their President Baron Pierre de Coubertin told his fellow members: "Let us not hesitate to let Africa join in."

There was even to be a medal to encourage sport in Africa.

In addition to the Session, a consultative commission considered the possibility of African Games to be held every two years. Coubertin included Dakar in his list of a dozen cities "recognised capable of holding the first Games".

An initial event in Algiers was planned for 1925, although this was soon cancelled and, instead, an event was planned for Alexandria with the support of the IOC. This was to be held in 1927.

Coubertin found a willing ally in Angelo Bolanaki, an IOC member who was vocal in trying to develop sport on the continent. "He threw himself into this scheme with a keenness and generosity," it was claimed.

The full details of the sports to be included were published in the IOC's official magazine in April 1926.

The Games were to be an ambitious event and it was even planned that they should incorporate an IOC Session, the first to be held in an African country.

Thomas Bach passes the Youth Olympic flag to Africa and Senegal ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach passes the Youth Olympic flag to Africa and Senegal ©Getty Images

When the IOC met in Lisbon, it was revealed that construction of the stadium had been delayed and that the Games themselves were put back a further two years.

All was now scheduled for 1929 but at the last moment there were objections from the British and French Colonial Governments and the whole affair was cancelled. Even the IOC meetings were hastily moved to Lausanne at short notice. By now he was no longer IOC President, but Coubertin still described it as an "annoying matter".

This was a time when many African countries remained under Colonial Governments. Coubertin felt that "there subsisted the idea of prestige in Metropolitan France being damaged by colonial success".

If athletes from the "colonies" competed, then it was for what was regarded as the "mother country".

Senegalese javelin thrower Cire Samba finished 20th at the 1924 Olympics and in 1928 Algerian born Boughera al Ouafi won the marathon. He had settled in Paris and was working as a motor mechanic. Both men were part of the French team.

Egypt pursued their own ambitions in the 1930s. At the IOC Session in Berlin, President Count Henri Baillet-Latour announced the cities which planned to bid for 1936. Alexandria was included alongside Barcelona and the eventual host city Berlin.

An Egyptian team played in football's 1934 World Cup in Italy. In 1938, Cairo hosted an IOC Session, which was the first to be held in an African country.

A leading figure in this was Muhammed Taher Pacha who had become an IOC member in 1934. His "ingenious organisation" drew fulsome thanks from the IOC President.

The members boarded the steamship Victoria for a six-day cruise along the River Nile during which many discussions took place including on the subject of doping.

German official Carl Diem could scarcely contain his enthusiasm.

"A specially furnished saloon was provided for the meetings, spacious windows afforded members excellent views of the ever-changing panorama of the Nile landscape," he said.

Diem described life on board as "congenial" and spoke in awe of the "imperishable impressions made by the monuments of Egyptian antiquity".

The meetings featured extensive deliberations over the 1940 Olympics. These had been awarded to Tokyo but in the wake of Japan's war with China there was growing uncertainty as to whether they would take place. Back in 1932 Alexandria had been listed among interested cities in the early stages of the process alongside Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Budapest, Dublin and Helsinki but their bid had come to nothing.

In 1938, IOC members held meetings as part of a River Nile cruise ©Getty Images
In 1938, IOC members held meetings as part of a River Nile cruise ©Getty Images

Many feel that there might have been an Olympic Games elsewhere in Africa had it not been for the rule of apartheid in South Africa. Cricket and rugby union flourished there and a South African team was first seen at the Olympics in 1908. The problem was that no-one of indigenous African descent was allowed to feature in any Springbok team.

Even so they continued to participate at every Olympics up to and including 1960.

It was at those Games that a Senegalese sprinter had been the first from his country to win an Olympic medal. Abdou Seye won 200 metres bronze in Rome but although his country had won independence, they did not yet have a National Olympic Committee. As a result he still competed in French colours.

There were other standard bearers who did compete in their nation's colours. Abebe Bikila, a guardsman at the palace of the Emperor Haile Selassie, won the marathon wearing the vest of his homeland Ethiopia. What he did not wear was shoes.

Many had been taken by surprise by the success of Bikila, including the correspondent of the respected French newspaper L'Équipe who had followed the race by helicopter.

He finished "as if on a training spin", such was the convincing margin of victory.

He repeated his success in Tokyo four years later and was followed by such runners as Mamo Wolde, Miruts Yifter and Haile Gebrselassie.

Generations of Kenyans and athletes from other African nations have followed in their wake.

As more and more countries became independent, they had a stronger voice with which to seek the formal Olympic exclusion of South Africa. Eventually, IOC President Avery Brundage dispatched a commission of enquiry to the republic but with somewhat vague terms of reference. Jean Claude Ganga and the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa kept up the pressure and South Africa were eventually expelled in 1970. It was not until the late 1980s that the apartheid era finally came to an end and it was a Senegalese official who played a leading role .

Judge Keba M'baye led the IOC Commission on Apartheid and took the group to South Africa to hammer out the final details which paved the way for their re-admission at the 1992 Olympic Games.

It was, he said, "certainly the most important event of my life as a man of sport and a human rights activist".

Since then South Africa has staged World Cups in rugby, athletics, cricket and football and an IOC Session. However, the continent as a whole has remained under represented, give or take rare World Cross-Country Championships in Morocco, Kenya or Uganda.

Amadou Dia Ba made history for Senegal at Seoul 1988 with hurdles silver  ©Getty Images
Amadou Dia Ba made history for Senegal at Seoul 1988 with hurdles silver ©Getty Images

Although football's Africa Cup of Nations was actually launched before the European equivalent, the continent did not have an automatic qualification spot for the World Cup until 1970.

In the 1970s and early 1980s it was Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco who led the way with impressive results and Pelé even predicted that a team from the continent would lift the World Cup by 2000. This did not happen.

Senegal's first appearance on the World Cup stage began with an impressive win over the defending champions France in 2002 and Ghana reached the quarter-finals in 2010. Nigeria and Cameroon have both been impressive performers at the World Cup, and have also each won Olympic gold.

Only one man has actually worn the colours of Senegal on an Olympic victory rostrum. El Hadji Amadou Ba recorded a lifetime best to take 400m hurdles silver at Seoul 1988. In doing so he joined an exclusive club, those who had beaten the mighty Ed Moses.

That medal came all of 30 years ago and the Senegalese will hope a new generation of role models will emerge as a result of 2022.

It falls to Dakar to stage the first global multi-sport event on the continent. The city is probably best known in sport as the destination of one of the most gruelling motorsport events, the Dakar Rally.

It will be very aware that its performance will have a profound effect on how the world views any future African bid for the Olympic Games themselves.