Sports Tourism: Alleviating Youth Unemployment in Southern Africa

Sport has generally played a great role in post-independence Africa and more specifically in Southern Africa with regard to nation-building engendered by national and regional pride brought by participation in continental and international sports events.

However, despite the demonstrable public and personal benefits of the fitness, sport, recreation, leisure industry, it has mainly been promoted and funded by governments throughout Southern Africa. 

South Africa is probably the only exception in this regard where there is significant private sector financial support for sport. Given, the appalling rates of youth unemployment within Southern Africa, active promotion of sport development and sports tourism is indeed one of the viable options to consider in alleviating abject poverty and deprivation. In many developed countries, sport is now a multi-billion-dollar industry generating employment and wealth for thousands, if not millions of people.

Combined with major event hosting, sport tourism has emerged to sustain the hospitality industries, which in some cases, without sport, could be teetering on the brink of collapse and bankruptcy.

Sports tourism is regarded as national, regional and international travel for the purposes of engaging in or observing sport and recreational events. The global sports tourism industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Southern Africa can and should work to attract more major sports events from the traditional markets of Australia, Europe and North America.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Member States have demonstrated full commitment to the economic development of the region through formulation and implementation of plans to develop infrastructure and support services to transform the lives of the people of the region. The SADC region, perhaps with the exception of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is increasingly becoming renowned for being political stable and safe region. 

Acts of terrorism and extreme violence are few and far between when compared to other parts of Africa and the rest of the  developing world. The region is, however, not taking full advantage of this peace and tranquillity. There is need therefore for greater co-operation and formalised collaboration between the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern African (RETOSA), the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI, Confederation of Southern African National Olympic Committees (COSANOC) Regional Sports Confederations and national sports authorities.

This co-operation will enable the RETOSA and the sports organisations to come up with strategies that make the region’s sports events appealing and attractive to international clients. Furthermore, RETOSA can help to effectively market the region’s sports events through the internet and social media.

Economic development can only be meaningful for Southern Africa if the real per capita income increases, provided that the number of people living in poverty (eg surviving on less than US$1 per day) does not increase. This means efforts should be made to explore strategies that promote economic growth, generation of employment opportunities and wealth by the majority of Southern Africans. History is replete with examples of countries that have been successful in attacking abject poverty through implementation of strategies and patterns of economic growth that promote effective utilisation of labour. These countries have invested in the labour or human capital of the under-privileged and disadvantaged majority as part of the transformation process.

The terms “sports tourism” and “sport business” have now become fashionable, meaning that sport is no longer just about fun, games and enjoyment. It is no longer, that which is done when the serious business of life has been accomplished. Sport is now a critical contributor to public education, health and economic tool to accelerate development in many hitherto backward states. Sport has the ability to productively utilise the most precious asset of the poor, their labour, to enable them to earn more income, enhance their productivity thereby generating wealth. To achieve the afore-mentioned goals, sport events have tobe efficientlymanaged and well marketed in Southern Africa and the rest of the world.

It is not the desire of Southern Times Sport Forum, to bore readers with the unemployment statistics for the region.  However, it is an undeniable fact that the development of the sport, recreation, and leisure and fitness industry can help to alleviate youth unemployment considering the thousands of graduates from secondary schools, colleges and universities that are, on a yearly basis, joining the already swelling ranks of the unemployed.  Very few of the school leavers and graduates are able to find work as the Southern African economies  are not growing fast enough to absorb all of them.

More recently, the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup by South Africa has helped to change international opinion of the African continent.  The World Cup showed that the African story is more than just the civil strife, hunger, starvation and war.  Many cynics were made to eat humble pie when Africa hosted the most successful Football World Cup in the history of the game.

South Africa has shown that sport business is indeed alive and kicking in Africa. Arecent study by SA Tourism has indicated that R3.6 billion was pumped into the South African economy and this excludes pre-expenditure. It is also estimated that 309 000 foreign tourists visited the South Africa during this event. This clearly demonstrates that Southern Africa can and should host more major events. The other benefits are indeed most welcome as through such hosting; investments are made in airports, roads, communications infrastructure, public health and sanitation, thereby improving the general standard of life in the region.

In this connection, SADC and RETOSA have to assist the sports authorities to have deliberate policies and strategies for driving economic development and diversification through sport. The Southern Times Sport Forum will continue to make clarion calls to all stakeholders in the region to focus on this hitherto neglected but critical industry. This industry has an important role to play in transformingthe lives of Southern Africans as well as supporting efforts to improve theoverall international perception of the region. The exploits of stars and teams such as Ernie Els, Frank Fredericks, Maria Mutola, Manucho, Steven Pienaar, Chad le Clos, Amantle Montsho and the Springboks arealready making the jobs of SADC and RETOSA much easier by creating unprecedented international awareness about the region.  

It is time for more continental and world championships to be held in Southern Africa. The enormous revenues from the exploitation of broadcasting rights and other related benefits accruing to the organisers are indeed some of the reasons why Southern African governments have to invest in world class facilities such that the region’s talented sports men and women can compete on home turf in a good number of sports disciplines and events.

With regard to marketing, there is need for various sports authorities, affiliated associations and clubs to take sports marketing more seriously in order to attract corporate sponsorship. Private companies clearly need Return on Investment (ROI) for funds that they plough into sport. The days of business as usual or mere charitable corporate social responsibility for sport are over. With the adverse economic environment caused by the global recession, sports organisations need to articulate strong business proposals in order to obtain sponsorship from private companies. If the sports marketing expertise is not available in-house, there is need to engage consultants to ensure the requisite resource mobilisation to sustain the sports organisation, its programmes and events. The time for action is NOW!

August 2013
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