Africa Cup of Nations: China's 'Stadium Diplomacy' Scores Big

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Africa Cup of Nations: China's 'Stadium Diplomacy' Scores Big As the 34th Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) unfolds in Ivory Coast, the spotlight isn't only on the thrilling football matches but also on the impressive infrastructure that hosts them. Three state-of-the-art stadiums, constructed with Chinese investment, stand as symbols of China's growing influence in the West African nation.


Ivory Coast's Architectural Marvels

During a recent diplomatic visit to Ivory Coast, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed admiration for the stadiums, praising their high quali and designating them as symbols of mutually beneficial cooperation. These state-of-the-art arenas, funded by Chinese entities, not only function as venues for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) but also align with China's broader strategy of investing in extensive infrastructure projects across the African continent.

In a parallel context, the surge in the construction of numerous stadiums, facilitated by Chinese investments, establishes a unique connection to the betting industry. The proliferation of these modern sports facilities has not only elevated the viewing experience for fans attending matches but has also presented new opportunities for the betting industry. The symbiotic relationship between the rise in stadium infrastructure and the betting sector is evident as more people engage in sports betting, drawn by the allure of high-quality games hosted in these impressive venues.

Coinciding with this discussion, it is noteworthy that offshore betting sites are becoming increasingly popular, as they can be accessed from just about anywhere in the world. In the context of new stadiums, we can see a link as the excitement and energy generated by these state-of-the-art facilities often translate into increased interest and activity within the betting realm.

Stade National de la Côte d’Ivoire (Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara)© Présidence de la République de Côte d’Ivoire | Stade National de la Côte d'Ivoire

In essence, the connection between the praise-worthy stadiums in the Ivory Coast and the offshore betting industry lies in the shared enthusiasm for sports events. The investment in modern stadiums not only enhances the overall sports experience but also contributes to the thriving ecosystem of sports betting, making it an integral part of the broader sports entertainment landscape.

Building a Legacy

The largest of the three stadiums is the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, also known as the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé, situated north of Abidjan. Boasting a seating capacity of 60,000, this grand facility was funded with a substantial $40.6 million from the China International Development Cooperation Agency (China Aid), Beijing's official foreign aid and global development agency.

In addition, the Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro, with a price tag of $107.5 million, was financed by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. These stadiums are part of China's extensive effort to strengthen ties with African countries through investments in various infrastructure projects, including diplomatic and military facilities, presidential palaces, parliament buildings, hospitals, and foreign ministry headquarters.

Stade National de la Côte d’Ivoire (Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara)© AFCON 2023 Organisation Committee | Stade National de la Côte d'Ivoire

Stadium Diplomacy Unveiled

Professor Simon Chadwick of SKEMA Business School in France and Chris Toronyi, a lecturer at Loughborough University in Britain, describe this strategy as stadium diplomacy. In an article for The Conversation, they explain that China's involvement in building stadiums across Africa is connected to the Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at promoting trade and interdependence between China and other nations.

According to China's nationalist tabloid, Global Times, the country has built over 100 stadiums across the African continent. This concerted effort to invest in infrastructure is seen as a cost-effective way for China to wield political influence with different elites in African nations.

Paul Nantulya, a China specialist at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, emphasizes that these stadiums and other facilities are often included as by-products of larger construction and energy projects negotiated between Chinese entities and African governments. He notes that China benefits from economies of scale in these comprehensive projects.

Stade National de la Côte d’Ivoire (Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara)© AFCON 2023 Organisation Committee | Stade National de la Côte d'Ivoire

China's Soft Influence

While attending a meeting with President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi underscored the significance of Afcon, stating that it is not only a grand event for the African people but also the pride of Ivory Coast. He highlighted the Alassane Ouattara Stadium as a symbol of mutually beneficial cooperation and friendship between China and Ivory Coast.

The Alassane Ouattara Stadium played a pivotal role in hosting Ivory Coast's three group matches during Afcon, showcasing its functionality and high-quality construction. Despite the team's performance, the stadium itself stood as a testament to the successful collaboration between China and Ivory Coast.

China's Educational Influence

Beyond the tangible infrastructure, China aims to extend its influence beyond the realm of steel and concrete. In countries like Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, Chinese instructors actively contribute to military colleges funded and built by Beijing, influencing curriculum development. In Tunisia, where China has invested in and constructed the Tunis International Diplomatic Academy, Chinese instructors are expected to collaborate with local officials on diplomatic engagements and policy.

Stade Laurent Pokou© HONORE BOSSON (CC BY-SA 4.0) | Stade Laurent Pokou 

A Multifaceted Approach to Global Influence

Paul Nantulya describes this softer aspect of influence as the software aspect, emphasizing the training and educational components that accompany China's investments. This multifaceted approach demonstrates China's commitment to not only physical infrastructure development but also to shaping minds and fostering diplomatic and strategic relationships.

As the Africa Cup of Nations continues to unfold in the Chinese-funded stadiums of Ivory Coast, the lasting impact of China's 'stadium diplomacy' becomes increasingly evident, shaping not only the physical landscape but also the geopolitical dynamics of the African continent.

Stade Laurent Pokou© ONS - infrastructures sportives en Côte d'Ivoire | Stade Laurent Pokou