Investment in sport facilities – supporting excellence
By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
INVESTMENT in sport facilities and supporting infrastructure is important for sport development and general economic progress of any country.
For example, there is no need to construct a fantastic sport facility in the middle of nowhere, where there are no roads to provide access to the place.
Facilities provision is the bedrock of sport development. Without sports facilities, it is very difficult to envisage any development that can take place in any country or region.
Facilities are needed for the delivery of sport at all levels, beginning from grassroots to elite development.
It is very difficult to organize any event, no matter how small, without sports facilities, both indoor and outdoor. It is disheartening to note that facilities provision is done on ad-hoc basis in most of Southern African countries.
There are very few governments or national sports authorities with strategic and operational plans for facilities construction and maintenance.
This is indeed a big challenge. The number, range, availability, accessibility and quality of facilities determine to a large extent whether people participate in sport and physical recreation or not, which activities they engage in, how often they play and generally how they perform and progress.
The development and commercialization of sport all over the world is dependent on the facilities available. Southern Africa is not an exception. Availability of sport facilities also improves the number of sports tourists coming to the region as prestigious events can be hosted in Southern Africa.
When one looks at indoor sports such as badminton, basketball, gymnastics, handball, netball, table tennis, squash, volleyball, it is evident that Southern Africa countries are indeed struggling at World Championships, Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
This is due to the serious shortage or in some cases unavailability of facilities for these sports codes. Coupled with chronic shortage of qualified coaches, development in these sport codes has been effectively stunted.
To avoid an egg and chicken scenario or the proverbial “Catch 22” situation, there is need for diversification of the range of sports facilities being provided either through public or private funding.
Nowadays, there are also possibilities for public –private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure development in various economic sectors. If there is a sector, that really needs to drive PPPs, it is sport. There is no doubt that the provision of sports facilities is an expensive undertaking.
Sports facilities are invariably expensive to build, maintain and operate.
Southern African Governments by themselves do not have the resources to construct all the critical facilities, especially the much needed multi-purposes indoor sports halls.
Provision of sports facilities must also be viewed in business and economic terms just like investment in other infrastructure such as roads, clinics and bridges.
If this is done, then the private sector, central and local governments will enhance their involvement in sport and sport development.
Sport is no longer just fun and games but an entertainment industry generating billions of dollars in revenue annually throughout the world.
Despite its relatively developed infrastructure compared to the rest of the continent, Southern Africa’s share of the global sport economy still remains below 3%.
There is therefore need for governments and sports authorities to undertake thorough research in sports science as well as feasibility studies in order to accurately determine participation trends as well high performance needs of their countries.
Without reliable scientific and statistical data, it will be difficult to ascertain the number and even nature of facilities required.
However, the onus is also on sports authorities and national sports associations to prove the economic viability and return on investment (ROI) in sport facilities development.
In addition, one issue that needs to be thoroughly examined is the matter of naming rights for facilities. Naming rights have never been fully exploited in the context of Southern African sport.
There are a lot of commercial banks, mobile telephone companies and other business houses that are closely associated with sport that can be approached with good marketing packages to invest in sports facilities for naming rights, hospitality arrangements and exclusive advertising opportunities.
Good governance in sport is also one matter that investors always look for when making long term commitments such as construction of sports facilities. Nobody wants to be associated with people or organizations that are renowned for shambolic or shoddy management. In this connection, sport organizations need to put their houses in order and improve their respective public images.
Without deliberate plans and subsequent project implementation in the construction of a variety of sports facilities, the quality of overall sports development in Southern African countries will remain compromised.
World class facilities help to improve actual performances on the field through reduction in incidences of stage fright for young sports persons, who in most cases, have never been exposed to such facilities.
Even the growth and diversity of teams representing the various nations at major games is going to be stunted.
Regardless of initial capital costs as well as on-going maintenance, renovations and refurbishment, sports facilities are a necessity and not a luxury for all Southern African countries.
It is a only a question of how they should be provided taking into account the peculiarities of each country’s economy and other related factors.
However, there is need for exchange ideas, information and experiences in the development of facilities in the region. Conferences, seminars and workshops for architects, economists, property developers, facility managers and sports authorities should be convened to facilitate project implementation throughout the region.
In addition, financiers such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), African Development Bank (AfDB) and World Bank should be engaged with a view to get them to support infrastructure development in sport.
Without financial injections by various central and local governments, the private sector as well as other development partners, the construction of sports facilities of world class standard will remain a pipe dream for most Southern African countries.