Financing Sport Development: Role of the Private Sector

There is no doubt that sport is an important and integral component of national and regional development in Southern Africa.
Participation in sport and physical recreation helps reduce public health costs because active and healthy lifestyles reduce incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cardio-vascular complications. Therefore, sport development at all levels ‑ from community level right up to elite or professional competition‑ is good for the country and for general health as well as fitness of individuals.
However, sport development costs money, which is not always readily available given the state of the economies of various Southern African nations.
Governments are doing a lot through provision of basic infrastructure and financing of sport development programmes. National Olympic Committees (NOCs) also contribute significantly to sport development through assistance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Solidarity Programme. Through the programme many athletes, coaches and teams ‑ who probably might not have been able to get the same support from their local government and corporate sponsors – have gained international exposure.
International Federations (IFs) such as FIFA ‑ under the current president, Sepp Blatter ‑ have also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into sport development in Southern Africa, which is something that really needs to be appreciated.
However, for Southern African sport to make the quantum leap forward there is an urgent need for mobilisation of local financial resources. The private sector of the various Southern African countries need to come to the party, just like in other regions of the world, and invest in the future of Southern African youth.
Governments are already overloaded with other priorities on the development agenda such as education, health, energy, transport and infrastructural development. To this end, governments have to explore ways and means of providing tax incentives and other inducements to entice private sector companies to finance sport development.
Of critical importance is the development and maintenance of sport facilities. Sporting facilities are the foundation or backbone of sport development. Without adequate facilities, it is very difficult to nurture and develop athletes or even promote enjoyment and health.
Sporting facilities do not always have to be expensive state-of-the-art structures. Of course, it would be lovely to have those, especially for national teams or sport academy purposes. What Southern Africa needs is the provision of basic facilities, which are accessible to those who require them, especially at community level.
Corporate sponsors can derive benefit from naming rights and advertising at sporting facilities, thereby ensuring that there are more and more relevant to the communities in which they operate.
Most companies provide league or tournament sponsorship, which is very important as competitions also promote talent identification and sport development in sport. However, there is need for a paradigm shift in terms of how companies and the beneficiary associations look at sport sponsorship. Sport development programmes usually suffer because of inadequate funding.
There is need to package development programmes and market them to prospective sponsors with a view  to creating a strong foundation for participation and pursuit of excellence, especially among junior athletes.
Creating sports academy systems is one way of getting companies to assist in the development of sport.
Sports academies do not always have to be brick and mortar institutions but can comprise initiatives and projects designed to train both athletes and support personnel such as administrators, coaches, referees and judges.
Corporate sponsors can also set up scholarship and bursary schemes for athletes and coaches to enable them to acquire much-needed skills either at home or abroad.
It is normal for corporate sponsors to require return on investment (ROI) for the funds they provide to sport. Clubs, national associations and federations must guarantee ROI for sponsorship they receive by improving their governance systems and overall accountability.
Incidences of corruption, match-fixing, maladministration and embezzlement of funds destroy the trust that exists between sports organisations, their sponsors and the general public. It is for this reason that sports authorities must invest in training world-class sports administrators, who can create environments that are conducive to the development of sport.
Without good leadership, sport authorities will not be able to attract much-needed finances from the private sector. Sponsorship is not something that can be forced or legislated. It is a voluntary partnership between corporate sponsors and rights holders.
Sports leaders should, therefore, play an active role in attracting corporate sponsors to their various sporting codes. This includes, among other things, inviting business executives to sports events, offering tickets, VIP packages and hospitality to existing and prospective sponsors.
In addition, sports authorities should also convene breakfast seminars, conferences and seminars to interact and share ideas with the private sector. This will enable private companies to develop appreciation and understanding of various sport codes and their unique financial needs.
Time has come for sport in Southern Africa to reduce dependence on government funding.
Obviously, it will not be possible to achieve financial independence overnight but given the current world economic recession and the state of various economies, sports organisations can expect drastic cuts in funding availed by governments in future. Rather than lament the hardship when it eventually becomes reality, sports organisations should be proactive and prepare for the worst while there is still time.
This will enable them to cushion the blows of serious reductions in funding for facilities and sport development in general. There is need to take calculated risks in improving the financing of sport development.
As the American motivational author, Spencer Chapman, aptly states,
“If you're not a little bit uncomfortable on a daily basis it means you're not growing. Every aspect of physical and emotional growth arrives from outside your comfort zone. So be fearless sometimes. Have the courage to take the risks that feel right. Go where there are no certainties. Stretch yourself and your routines even if it means feeling a bit uncomfortable.
The road less travelled is sometimes laden with potholes, bumps, and unexplored territory.
But it is on this road where your strength grows and your dreams gradually reveal themselves.”

June 2013
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