The case for sport development in Southern Africa

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

WHEN the meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of States took place in South Africa recently, a moment of silence was in order in honour for the Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, the former President of the Republic of Botswana.     

Sir Ketumile was a great supporter of sport development, which is illustrated by the fact that he was Patron of the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) from 1980 up until his demise in 2017.

Political support for sport, as exemplified by the late President Masire is indeed very important. “Politics is ubiquitous” according to university lecturer, Professor Adele Jinadu, from Nigeria.   Indeed politics is everywhere and it is a fact that there is no sport without politics.

Sport is now an integral component of socio-economic development of many nations, developed and developing. It is estimated that the value of the global sport, recreation and leisure industry will exceed US$20 billion in 2017.

Utilizing the power of television, sport has become an important entertainment industry on its own. Sport now generates significant employment and wealth at all levels.

Furthermore, the public health benefits of active involvement in sport and physical recreation have not been really investigated, especially in Southern Africa. Fit and healthy sports are more productive.

They save governments hundreds of millions of dollars in public health expenditures. To this end, there is need for collaboration between sports authorities, universities and policy analysts to undertake proper research to establish the value of sport in Southern Africa.

This will enable the case of sport to be heard by the Heads of State and Governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

Southern Africa has for the past twenty years remained largely unscathed by the civil strife and wars that have engulfed other parts of the continent.

However, the political stability and relative economic prosperity have not been fully exploited to develop the sport industry.

The potential for growth in sport and event tourism in Southern Africa is yet to be realized. The 2010 FIFA World Cup revealed this great potential for utilizing sport to drive economic development.

However, it is not just only South Africa which should be hosting major events but other countries in the region must also develop world class facilities that can be utilized to host major continental and world events.

Other sectors such as the hospitality, travel and tourism stand to benefit a great deal from the development of the sport industry.

There is no doubt that in order to fully develop the sport industry in Southern Africa, there is need for massive investments in construction and maintenance of sports facilities and related infrastructure.

Without world class facilities, it will be very difficult to host international events which bring a lot of revenue and other benefits to the hosts. Many SADC summits have come and gone but sport development has never been part of the agenda or policy pronouncements. No one can deny that Southern Africa needs improved food security, energy supply, better roads, communication networks, health facilities, schools and colleges.

By the same token, Southern Africa needs better stadiums, swimming pools and indoor sports halls.

Without a change of mindset and strategic focus by the policy advisors and decision makers, sport in Southern Africa will remain mediocre and its contribution to economic development and prosperity will be minimal. The meteoric rise emergence of Multichoice television Company and its Supersport platform as well as the new kid on the block, Kwese TV are indeed welcome developments not only for Southern Africa but Africa as a whole.

It means that Africa has got world class television broadcasting capability which is an important ingredient in efforts to commercialize sport. International events can indeed be beamed to a global audience thereby raising the profile of the region.

It also means that greater efforts must be made to liberalize television and broadcasting services to enable them to service sport much better.

Governments should also create enabling environments for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to accelerate facilities development. 

With increasing calls for governments to reduce the respective sizes of the civil services as well as public expenditure, it means that innovative means must be found to ensure construction, management and maintenance of world class sports facilities. Governments are important players but they alone cannot shoulder the responsibility of providing sports facilities.

Without significant improvements in facilities, Southern Africa’s share of the cake of massive wealth being generated by the global sports industry will remain largely insignificant.

The Middle East and South-East Asia are good examples of investments in sport facilities. Over the years investments in sports facilities are now paying off with major crowd pulling events, including amongst others, golf, motor sports and tennis being part of the global circuit.

These events have helped to raise the profile of these regions and contributed to increases in foreign direct investment tourism and trade.

There is great potential for development of the sport industry in Southern Africa. Conventional employment generation initiatives have so far failed to make in-roads into the massive unemployment and destitution which a lot of young Southern Africans, even the educated ones now face.

Sport can indeed help to transform lives and increase prosperity. It is up to the various national sports authorities to make convincing arguments for sport as an industry, not a social service. It is time for SADC to wake up to this reality.

It is time for the sport leaders to shift their focus from sports politics but the politics of sport. That is where real power lies! Hopefully, this paradigm shift will take place soon!

August 2017
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