How Sports Can Boost African Economies

Fans enjoying a soccer match at the stadium.

By Dumi Jere

Aside from all the other controversies about Qatar’s restrictions at the ongoing FIFA Soccer World Cup, the event has produced some fantastic football. Some of the goals have been out of this world! As an African, I have been following the African teams and how they have been playing. A massive congratulations to the African teams that have made it thus far to the next round of 16. 

Soccer is a language most of us speak, and if treated correctly can potentially be an engine for massive socio-economic growth in Africa. Skills and talent are abundant on the continent; however, the primary resource that Africa lacks is the infrastructure to support it. Therefore, governments must take the necessary initiatives to prioritize sports as a potential driver for economic growth.

Soccer is not only the preeminent sport on the African continent but is the single greatest cultural unifier. Nothing else unites people from Mbabane in Eswatini to Dakar in Senegal like the round ball. Casual players, professional athletes, online gamblers, passionate supporters, tavern owners, sidewalk vendors, broadcasters, and journalists; an entire cultural ecosystem is built around the pursuit of goals.

Youngsters improving their craft.

For example, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 was broadcast in over 157 countries, with a viewership of 65 million in Nigeria alone! The matches also gained high levels of engagement on various social media platforms, such as TikTok, which garnered a monstrous 2.5 billion views under the #afcon2021 hashtag. That is how big soccer is on the continent. 

For decades, Western countries have flooded their sports industry with investment as they have realized the amount of revenue this sector adds to their economies. For example, Deloitte’s 2019/2020 annual review of the European Football market illustrated that the European leagues had overall revenues of EUR 25.2 billion, of which EUR 15.1 billion was generated by the “Big Five”: the German Bundesliga, the United Kingdom’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga. With such revenues generated, governments can reinvest money into the sports industry to further its agenda, repeating the cycle and creating an ecosystem that automatically regenerates itself every financial year. 

How can our government and other African governments invest more in soccer and, by extension, sports to boost their economies? 

African governments must create more robust policies to incubate the sports industry in its infancy stage. This sector can rapidly increase Africa’s riches because its primary resource — 1.4 billion people — possesses the raw talent that could spark a new vision for the continent. The ability is readily available in Africa, but those with it are already seeking opportunities overseas, thus generating revenues abroad and not for their own countries. Therefore, providing Africans with local platforms will benefit local economies and nurture home-grown talent and business opportunities. In addition, the growth of the sports sector would accommodate other industries needed to support it, including hotels, infrastructure, networks, communications, education, and tourism.

Governments need to prioritize the infrastructure that supports sports. For Eswatini, the decision not so long ago by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) that declared Somhlolo Stadium not fit to host international football games is a classic example of why a country needs to prioritize the infrastructure and maintain the same. 

For AFCON 2021, the Cameroonian government invested over USD 885 million in renovating and upgrading infrastructure, hospitals, roads, airports, hotels, and other sports-related facilities. Long after the tournament, Cameroon still benefits from the renovations and upgraded infrastructure, increasing its global exposure and providing opportunities for more foreign direct investment. 

African countries need to invest in the development of sports.

To administer successful sports governance in Africa, governments should consider allocating grants to develop and maintain sports infrastructure. In addition, governments should establish official governing bodies dedicated to sports and culture, appointing sport-minded board members and executives. One aspect that most governments already do well is integrating sports into the education system to help develop the culture from a young age. This is commendable and must continue beyond school. 

The ongoing evaluation of development projects related to sports periodically to ensure they are well implemented is critical. South Africa has taken the lead in Africa by adopting sport development as part of its Horizon 2025 strategy, which aims to develop sport and its values in everyday life to create a nation with a melting pot of champions. 

The role of inclusiveness in achieving sports development cannot be overlooked, meaning that governments, sports and culture organizations, clubs, and athletes need to work together to build and support the sports sector and ensure a realization of the maximum returns.

Dumi Jere is the Managing Partner at Consultancy Services, a management consultancy that partners with leaders in business and government to achieve meaningful, sustainable transformation. 

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