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Sport Maurice
A grueling regime of close to four hours of training per day. Coaching in sports ranging from judo to soccer, as well as in nutrition and leadership. It’s all part of a program to train youngsters for high-level competition at Africa’s first multisport Olympic Academy in Mauritius. Less than a year from the 2024 Olympics, and as the Sport Impact Summit unfolds in Dakar, we discuss the program with Jean-Baptiste Gobelet, former French international rugby player and co-founder of the Academy.

Originally published in July, 2023, this article was updated on 6 November 2023.

With the 2023 Rugby World Cup just weeks away and the countdown beginning to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, sports and their impact on young people’s lives are in the spotlight. The Mauritius Academy of Sport, the first multisport Olympic academy in Africa, is among some 30 sporting organizations to receive financing from AFD in partnership with PLAY International, Groupe SOS and the Diambars Institute

How did the idea for the Mauritius Academy of Sport come about?

Jean-Baptiste Gobelet: The AOS concept originated in Mauritius based on one goal: making high-level and mainstream sports an essential link in a region’s development, by combining it with a comprehensive and inclusive educational program. 

Developing a sense of identity is the number one issue for young people aged 12 to 18. The prism of sports helps them establish their identity, as well as a sense of discipline, something we often talk about. This idea gave rise to the Academy’s mission: to make an impact on young people, by offering athlete-centric training to sporting and academic excellence in Mauritius. Through the sports academies program, we launched the first cohort in September 2021, comprising 27 athletes from seven Olympic disciplines.

See also: Sports as a Driver of Development and Peace

How can this project have a lasting impact on regions and their communities?

From the outset, we wanted the project to be totally inclusive, both in terms of selecting the athletes and the sports on offer. The AOS is the first multisport Olympic academy in Africa: by incorporating all Olympic and Paralympic sports, we can give these young people many more opportunities to access comprehensive support, whether playing rugby, soccer or basketball, surfing, skateboarding or practicing judo.

More importantly, students are also recruited via an inclusive process, based on meritocratic principles. We offer a scholarship system that ensures equal opportunities for disadvantaged young people. There is a major focus on recruiting girls, with the aim of achieving equal representation.

However, sport is not solely a driver of social change: our mission is to train elite sportsmen and women who will have a direct and lasting impact on their home country, loved ones and community, by instilling certain values and providing them with a professional career and/or decent work (for instance as a coach, trainer or supervisor).

It's important to highlight the impact coefficient: if every teacher, parent, pupil or athlete has an impact on those around them at their own level, the positive effect is multiplied. For example, in Bel Ombre, we’ve gone from 1 to 120 rugby players: these children now train every day, are passionate about their sport and are in excellent health.

See also: Rugby, a Key Role to Play in the Sustainable Development Goals

How can Africa’s first multisport Olympic academy help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Mauritius and beyond?

The Academy of Sport does play a part in achieving the SDGs: health, well-being, quality education and access to decent work, gender equality, reducing inequality, innovation and infrastructure. It has even uncovered another potential SDG involving access to “elite sport”.

First and foremost, students train in the environment of top-level athletes and undergo comprehensive health monitoring. With personalized academic support, at the end of their academic training they have the option to take an internationally-recognized exam, and are guaranteed decent work through corporate partnerships.

The Academy also promotes and supports women’s sport: the proportion of girls in classes has increased by 15% year on year. Our ultimate goal is to achieve full gender equality within the organization, but it's a question of culture, and this requires raising awareness throughout Mauritius. 

This year, we're planning to build new sports facilities in disadvantaged areas, namely in Rodrigues and Bel Ombre, in order to reach communities in their local areas as much as possible.

In September 2023, we launched our third promotion, which includes 100 athletes (including from Réunion and Madagascar) for 20 different sports, with 15% of students on scholarships. In the long term, we aim to roll out this model across Africa and the Middle East.

The 2024 Paris Olympics, as well as the 2028 USA Games and the 2032 Australian Games, are all opportunities for our Academy to develop this concept of sports diplomacy, by providing a springboard for young athletes to reach the top, and increasing their impact in their home countries.