Opinion: Why Africa urgently needs to commercialise its sports sector


Across the world, sport has grown beyond mere physical activity or social spectacle and has developed into a major industry with significant contribution to national growth and employment. The sports industry is said to be growing faster than the national economy in China and the rate of sports employment has been growing at a faster pace than total employment in the European Union (EU).

In Africa however – despite sport being a proven force which provides employment opportunities for economic development of individuals and a nation at large – the role of sports in economic development is yet to be fully realized.

The gains of sport in Africa have largely been limited to the socio-cultural spectacle and its unifying and happiness factors. Even the occasional hosting of international competitions has not been met with the needed commercialization of the standard infrastructures, leaving under-utilized sporting infrastructures from Abuja to Cape Town.

This article examines the low level of commercialization of sport in Africa, with some comparison to the EU and America. It also highlights how African governments can use law and policy to boost the commercialization of sport and thus draw from the attendant socio-economic benefits. Specifically, the article looks at: The potential of sport for development in Africa; The concept of commercialization of sport; Law and policy as tools for commercialization; Focus areas for Africa and Non-interference with sports (self) regulation.

The potential of sport for development in Africa

Much of the success stories emanating from Africa have sport as their theme, from the emergence of individual icons like Didier Drogba to the socio-political impact of South Africa hosting and winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Even though the commercial spotlight of sport is beaming on the likes of China, Gulf States and India, sport is actually much more deeply embedded in Africa, from rugby and cricket in South Africa, the distance running prowess of Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes, to football all over the continent and especially populous states in the west such as Nigeria; neither China nor India have produced anything like the global superstars that are Didier Drogba, Mohammed Salah, George Weah or Haile Gebrselassie.

Admittedly, it is hard to see how these African stars could shine without the international stage. Not only are the number of attractive sporting events and competitions taking place within the African continent are grossly insufficient, the successful African sportsmen and women often owe the development of their skills to foreign training. 

If adequate structures, institutions, policies and regulatory frameworks as exist in other parts of the globe are replicated in Africa, it is exciting to imagine how the sporting spotlight would focus on the continent, especially given such factors as the young demographics of the continent, the growing reach of social media, the similar time zone as Europe, which make Africa a hugely attractive market.
The concept of commercialization of sport

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “commercialization” as “the organization of something in a way intended to make a profit”. From the angle of sporting activities and competitions, the match tickets, merchandize, sponsorships/partnerships, advertising, etc. are all part of the process of making financial gain from or through sport.

From a football club making profit from commercial partnerships, sale of match day tickets, players, and other sources of club revenue, to the kit and sporting goods manufacturers making profit from the sale of replica kits, down to the match day steward who earns income with his back to the game, it can be seen that the economic benefits of commercialization of sport reach beyond the athlete and the sports club only.

As with other forms of profit-making ventures, the need for deliberate efforts and calculated investments are necessary to exploit the potential for financial gain in sport. For instance, the technological advancements in media and communications, and more recently, social media are being exploited so that the revenue generated from the numbers of sport viewers and followers often surpasses what is generated from the limited stadium capacity on match day.

It is pertinent to clarify that the concept of commercialization envisaged in this article focuses on professional sport and not amateur or developmental sport. While high quality performance levels and entertainment value inherent in professional sport attract wide viewership and attention, commercialization of sport is not without economic-induced risks such as match-fixing and the use of performance enhancing drugs. Focus is on professional sport, not amateur sport. – www.lawinsport.com

* Kelvin specializes in sport governance. His experience includes working with football regulatory bodies in Nigeria on compliance and regulatory issues, as well as membership of the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation. Kelvin has a Masters degree in sports law from Nottingham Trent University.

Staff Reporter
2019-11-15 10:14:15 | 10 hours ago

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