Since the election of Patrice Talon in 2016, the development of the sports sector has become a priority in Benin, with special attention on developing school sports.

Benin’s five-year Government’s Action Program “Benin Revealed” emphasizes the will to “make sport a real tool for human, social and economic development”. To carry out this strategy, the Talon administration wishes to set up new sectoral projects, mainly aimed at young people and to be provided through schools.

A new dynamic for school sport

The flagship measure in school sport is the creation of sports classes in five disciplines: football, basketball, handball, athletics, and martial arts. This grassroots sports initiation program has been operational since the start of the 2017-2018 school year and has been carried out in both public and private colleges and high schools. The programme aims to detect and train young Beninese talents who can join sports academies and contribute to the development of professional sport. As of May 2021, the country had 88 sports classes. Due to the difficulties faced by the programme, including absenteeism of coaches and a lack of equipment,  the programme has been restructured to adapt to the circumstances. The programme has still been successful, since this initiative seems to have contributed to FIFA choosing Benin for its pilot project for the African School Football Championship.

FIFA, the Beninese Football Federation (FBF) and the Government of the Republic of Benin signed an agreement in early 2020 to develop school football in the country. A training program for young referees, instructors and local coaches are being developed and implemented. The final phase of the BÉNIN-FIFA 2021 National School Football Championship took place last July in the towns of Comè and Grand-Popo. The event, which brought together 24 teams (12 men’s and 12 women’s teams), was a success and laid the foundation for future competitions for sports classes.

A catalyst for Beninese youth

“The desire to promote school sport is also due to the fact that there are few private structures to welcome young people in Benin, and it is difficult to ask parents to pay for a license when many are already struggling to meet their daily needs,” said Isabelle Yacoubou, French international basketball player and Sport Impact Leader. Beyond the development of elite sport and the country’s influence, enhancing school sport will allow marginalised young students to access sport. In addition to the mental and physical health benefits, they can acquire various skills related to sport values, like teamwork, fair play and autonomy, which are equally useful off the pitch.

While school sport helps strengthen life skills, the government is also banking on developing specific skills for future sports players. For example, the Beninese Office of School and University Sports (OBSSU), under the leadership of the Ministry of Sports, has been piloting the “Young Officials” project since 2018, with annual training courses made accessible to introduce young people to sports journalism, refereeing, coaching and first aid.

Youth remain at the heart of the government’s programmes, and school sport, through its inclusive and educational scope, represents a significant lever for the development of the sport sector as well as Beninese society. This ambitious strategy is in its early stages but looks promising. To achieve its objectives, the Beninese state has the expertise of sport personalities such as Jimmy Adjovi-Boco, former international football player and current advisor to the Minister of Sports; Isabelle Yacoubou; Ian Mahinmi, former NBA player and Sport Impact Leader; and Rock Feliho, former professional handball player and Sport Impact Leader. Aware that they are role models and of what sport has brought them, these athletes wish to contribute to the development of Beninese youth.