Madagascar to host the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games

Official logo of the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games is the ring-tailed Lemur, a flagship species of Madagascar. Photo: Orange actu, used with permission.

From August 25 to September 3, 2023, Madagascar will host the Indian Ocean Island Games for the third time.

The Indian Ocean Island Games (JIOI) are sports games where athletes from various Southwest Indian Ocean islands gather for a multi-sport competition. Mauritius, Seychelles, the ComorosMadagascarMayotte, Réunion and the Maldives all participate in this event.

The Indian Ocean Island Games originate from the Regional Olympic and Sports Committee (CROS) of Réunion, which suggested holding sports games in the Indian Ocean region, known as the Indian Ocean Games, as part of its 1974 objectives agreement. This idea was subsequently adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1976. Its first edition was thereby held in Saint-Denis, Réunion in 1979 as the Indian Ocean Games. Following its first edition, it later became known as the Indian Ocean Island Games.

The JIOI is a quadrennial event. According to the Indian Ocean Island Games Charter, there must be ten or more sports disciplines, two of which must be athletics and swimming.

Madagascar, which previously hosted the JIOI in 1990 and 2007, will thereby be the host country for the third time in 2023 for its 11th edition. For this occasion, the organizing committee has selected “Victory in Unity and Diversity” as the games’ motto, which is sung proudly in the official 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games’ anthem

The anthem and logo for the games were unveiled during an official ceremony in May. President Andry Nirina Rajoelina of the Republic of Madagascar posted the official anthem on Facebook:

“C’est avec amour que je vous partage l’hymne des jeux des Jeux des îles de l'Océan Indien”

La victoire dans l’unité et la diversité

“It's with love that I share the anthem for the “Indian Ocean Island Games” with you

Victory in Unity and Diversity

Games that strengthen regional integration

During the JIOI, organizers undertake to fulfill various objectives: to establish friendship and mutual understanding between the people of the Indian Ocean Islands; to foster regional cooperation with the participation of athletes from various member islands, without racial, religious or political discrimination, for the region's sport development. These games also foster regional solidarity by establishing a common technical, refereeing and organizational training schedule. Mini games are also held with the participation of the International Games Council (CIJ) member islands to promote Olympism and respect international rules. 

The 11th edition will have 17 sports disciplines on the program: athletics, basketball, boxing, badminton, cycling, soccer, weightlifting, handball, judo, karate, wrestling, swimming, rugby sevens, tennis, table tennis, pétanque, and volleyball. To ensure the safety of all athletes involved, the organizing committee suggested the competition only be held in Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo.

During his speech at the official anthem and logo unveiling ceremony for Madagascar's Island Games, at the Ivato International Conference Center, President Rajoelina expressed his commitment to making these games an expression of national pride and even better than previous editions.

The event's opening ceremony will take place on August 25 and its closing ceremony will be held on September 3, 2023 in the Mahamasinna Municipal Stadium, Antananarivo

On social media, many are excited about the prospect of hosting this great event and supporting Malagasy athletes in a spirit of solidarity. Take for example Haingotiana Sarah, who tweeted:

Together, we share the excitement for the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games! 🔥 A sporting celebration that showcases the athletic excellence and team spirit within the Indian Ocean islands. Ready to support our favorite athletes? 💪🏅 #JeuxDesÎles2023 #EspritdÉquipe #Sport

— Haingotina Sarah (@HaingotinaSara1) June 29, 2023

Chinese involvement in hosting JIOI 2023

However, Malagasy national pride appears to have been overshadowed. The government announced that the games’ opening and closing ceremonies would be led by Chinese choreographers. This decision has angered many Malagasy citizens on social media. The private television station, Ny Vaovaon'i KOLO TV, posted on Facebook

Tsy mahatoky ny fahaiza-manaon’ny Malagasy ny fitondram-panjakana ka nanafatra teknisiana sinoa hamolavola ny seho fanokafana sy famaranana ny lalaon’ny Nosy hotanterahana eto amintsika afaka herinandro vitsy. Tohina vokatr’izany ireo andrarezin’ny kanto sy ny kolontsaina Malagasy izay nanantena sy nanomana ny hampiseho ny fahaiza-manaony ho hitan’izao tontolo izao saingy izao ny vahiny izao no omen’ny mpitondra tombondahiny.

Le gouvernement ne fait pas confiance aux compétences du peuple malgache et a donc chargé des techniciens chinois de concevoir les scènes d'ouverture et de clôture des Jeux des îles qui se dérouleront ici dans quelques semaines. En conséquence, les dirigeants de l'art et de la culture malgaches qui espéraient et prévoyaient de montrer leurs compétences au monde ont été choqués, mais maintenant les étrangers se voient accorder leurs privilèges par les dirigeants.

The government doesn't trust the skills of Malagasy people, thus appointing Chinese experts to plan the opening and closing ceremonies for the Indian Ocean Island Games being held here in just a few weeks. As such, the Malagasy arts and culture executives hoping and planning to show their skills to the world have been left frustrated by leaders now granting their opportunities to foreigners.

Following this controversy sparked by the use of Chinese experts, when local expertise is readily available, the Minister of Youth and Sports, André Haja Resampa, gave this explanation to the press:

Des experts chinois du mouvement d’ensemble sont arrivés à Madagascar pour collaborer avec les figurants malgaches qui ont déjà concocté quelque chose, ils vont travailler ensemble dans la conception, la réalisation de certaines figures.

Chinese experts have come to Madagascar to work with the Malagasy artists who already had something planned. They're going to work together in planning and performing some routines.

It's debatable whether this attempt at rectification will be enough. After all, China has a very strong presence in Madagascar, yet its influence only seems to benefit the minority with close ties to the government. As this report by the French Institute of International Relations indicates:

C’est dans l’économie informelle de l’exploitation des ressources naturelles que les opérateurs chinois jouent un rôle majeur, contribuant à perpétuer l’extractivisme dont Madagascar peine à sortir depuis l’indépendance et jouant de fait un rôle important dans le financement des pouvoirs qui se succèdent.

Chinese agents play a key role in the informal economy of natural resource exploitation, thus sustaining the extractivism that Madagascar has struggled to leave behind since gaining its independence, and playing a major role in financing successive governments.

With less than a few days days to go, the government asserts that Madagascar will be ready to host JIOI 2023 and that preparations are well underway. The success of this event would be an important asset for the incumbent president, who is seeking reelection in November 2023

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