By Sahr Morris Jnr
The Olympic Forest is growing: On the occasion of a visit to Senegal, host of the Youth Olympic Games 2026, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, accompanied by IOC members Kirsty Coventry and Mamadou Diagna Ndiaye, planted a symbolic native tree at the future Youth Olympic Village in Dakar. This celebrates the first phase of tree-planting activities for the Olympic Forest in Senegal and Mali, where 70,000 seedlings have already been planted to date.
Speaking at the planting ceremony that took place on Saturday on the university campus of Diamniadio – future home of the athletes for the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026 – President Bach welcomed the progress of the project: “I am delighted to see that the project is now underway and that the first 70,000 trees have been planted in Senegalese and Malian villages in the Sahel zone. The Olympic Forest is about more than just planting trees. Communities in the Sahel zone will greatly benefit from this project by seeing an increase in their climate resilience, food security, nutrition and income opportunities. The Olympic Movement is about building a better world through sport, and the Olympic Forest demonstrates our commitment to this vision.”
In total, the Olympic Forest project will involve the planting of around 590,000 native trees over four years across 90 villages in Mali and Senegal, restoring approximately 2,000 hectares of degraded forest and farmland.
President Bach added: “The Olympic Forest is a key driver of the IOC’s ambition to move from now being a carbon-neutral to a climate-positive organisation in 2024 and helps us to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. With this we want to lead the way for the entire Olympic Movement.”
At the ceremony, Mrs Rouguiatou Diallo, committee secretary of the village of Sinthiou Fissa and direct beneficiary of the project, said: “It had been five years that we had not seen a lot of trees. As a consequence, there was no rain and a lot of dust. The Olympic Forest project is beneficial for the local populations and mostly women and children. For instance, in our village, several species of fruit trees have been planted like lemon trees, mango trees and mahoganies, which greatly helps us to combat undernutrition and malnutrition”.
Villagers are also actively engaged in supervising the growth and health of the seedlings and reporting any potential issues.
Besides sequestering carbon by planting trees, the initiative creates diverse social, economic and environmental benefits in an area frequently hit by droughts and floods, leading to a steady degradation of land and sources of food. The project contributes to Africa’s Great Green Wall, a UN-backed initiative that restores degraded landscapes across the Sahel.
The Olympic Forest activities on the ground are implemented by Tree Aid, a non-profit organisation with over 35 years’ experience working with people in the drylands of Africa to tackle poverty and the effects of the climate crisis by growing trees and restoring and protecting land.