Exploring the link between sports development and economic growth


The quest to speed up the pace of economic development of developing countries after several years of failed attempts to industrialise, has led many developing countries to find antidotes to the challenges of their underdevelopment. Sports development is touted as one of the means through which their underdevelopment challenges can be addressed. However, little attention has been paid to: the challenges developing nations currently face in developing sports and how they can be addressed; how developing nations can develop sports; and how developing nations can exploit the benefits of sports development to help them achieve economic growth and development. Kakonge (2016) wrote that though sports have important benefits, it is an area which is underdeveloped and underfunded, especially in Africa. This article aims at providing the roadmap for addressing the challenges of sports development in developing nations to make the sector relevant for economic growth and development of developing countries.

  • Reasons for the underdevelopment of sports in developing countries

The underdevelopment of sports in developing countries may be explained by the following reasons:

  • Poor economic performances of developing nations: Sports development has relatively been influenced by the level of economic development of countries. Financial capital is needed for sports infrastructural development, and for rewarding sports personnel. Unfortunately, because developing nations do not have the needed amount of financial capital due to low levels of their gross domestic products (GDPs), the sports sector remains underdeveloped. Chappelet (2010) wrote that the underdevelopment of sports in developing countries emanates from their economic underdevelopment. Particularly, developing nations are faced with the problems of lack of financial capital for sports development, inadequate sports facilities and equipment, and lack of capacity to host major sporting events.
  • Inadequate sports infrastructural facilities: Inadequate government and private sector investments in sports infrastructural facilities have contributed to the underdevelopment of sports in developing countries. This is as a result of low returns on investments in sports. For this reason, sports development issues are not featured prominently on national development agenda. Hallmann, Wicker, Breuer, & Schonherr (2012) reported that the importance of sports infrastructure for individuals and nations participation in different sports had been mostly ignored. The low investments in sports in developing countries consequently decrease the potential for sportsmen and women to build their talents.
  • Inadequate attention given to the promotion of grassroots sports in the educational curricula of most developing nations: Most developing nations do not give adequate attention to sports promotion and development at the grassroots level. The youth are mainly found in schools so when sports issues are featured prominently in school curricula more talents and skills can be identified and developed for the sports sector. Diop (2016) wrote that in the developing world, and particularly in Africa, policy-makers tend to focus on so-called “elite” sports (such as soccer, boxing, athletics, and basketball at a professional level) and devote very little interest or budgetary support to the development of basic physical education.
  • Inadequate remuneration and appropriate incentive packages for sports personnel: Due to low incomes of developing nations, sports personnel are underpaid and as a result, the best talents leave the shores of developing nations to seek greener pastures in developed nations. Disney (2006) disclosed that a large number of people who engage in sport in developing nations are without remuneration because of a lack of any exceptional talent, and because their activities do not generate any revenue to the organisers. Onyishi & Okou (2016) argued that in the area of football, European countries exploit African countries through the migration of talented African footballers into Europe and thereby create inequality in football development between the two continents.
  • Poor planning, bad governance, lack of monitoring and evaluation of performances of identified talents, programmes, and investments: Governments and sports officials fail to plan properly toward sports development and do not monitor and evaluate programmes and investments made in sports. According to the United Nations Development Programme (2009), good planning, monitoring and evaluation of sporting activities and policies can enhance the development of sports by contributing to establishing clear links between past, present and future initiatives and development results. Without effective planning, monitoring and evaluation, it would be very difficult and possibly impossible to judge if work is on track, whether progress and success can be made, and how future efforts might be improved.
  • Insufficient formulated and implemented active, inclusive, and interrelated sports policies: Governments, domestic sports associations, confederations of sports associations of developing nations, and international sports federations do not have sufficient, active, and interrelated policies for sports development in developing nations. Active, inclusive, and interrelated sports policies and programmes must involve all key stakeholder groups based on country specific characteristics such as the history of the government’s involvement in sports issues, the existing political framework, and the government’s public policy development process; these will help define needs, opportunities, and priorities of the sports sector (www.un.org.sport/files).
  • Lack of interest in sports by most households in developing nations: Sports are viewed by most households in developing nations as an area for those who are not academically brilliant. Inadequate exploration of the complementary role between sports and academia by households, governments, and sports personnel has contributed to its underdevelopment. Education and sports are essential for each other. Mandrapa (2014) wrote that sports teach a person many valuable lessons, but when it is combined with education, it gives a person an added advantage to succeed in life.
  • Inadequate competitions organised by governments and sports associations: Due to lack of funds, sports associations are unable to organise enough competitions for sportsmen and women to unearth talents and to develop their skills for the development of sports. According to org, (n. d.), participation in international sports by developing countries has been very low. This development has been exacerbated by a shortage of physical education and sports for all programmes, inadequate financing for sports, inadequate sports facilities and equipment, lack of capacity to host major sporting events, etc.
  • Inadequate legal frameworks for regulating various sporting disciplines at all levels: Developing nations lack the needed legal frameworks that can generally support sports development through clubs growth, contracts enforcements, discipline, teamwork, and a competitive spirit. In most developing countries, rules relating to sports are not adequately implemented and adhered to by stakeholders. The outcome of most sports games and events are allegedly pre-determined by officiating referees and sports officials which in most cases result in riots, loss of games, and lives. Contracts between sportsmen and women and clubs are usually not respected. Eksteen (2012) reported that sports rules ensure order and discipline on the parts of sportsmen and women, and on the playing field. This contributes toward fairness in sports to determine who the ultimate winner of a game or event will be.
  • Inadequate relevant data on sporting activities for more research works toward sports promotion and development: Availability of relevant data help to evaluate the trends and impact of sports programmes and investments for planning purposes. Luiz & Fadal (2019) reported that lack of research into sports and organisational economics especially in emerging countries has partly explained the lack of data on sporting activities in developing countries for planning and sports development.
  • The impact of sports development on economic growth and development is underrated: The role of sports in solving the problems of unemployment among the youth and in contributing to economic growth and development has been underrated in comparison to the industrialisation agenda of many developing nations. Kakonge (2016) wrote that the relevance of sports for economic development has been insufficiently appreciated by African governments for it to be incorporated into their national development plans.
  • Long-term Complementary Strategies for Sports Development in Developing Nations

This section attempts to explain ten long-term complementary strategies or cardinal pillars of sports development which when holistically implemented can promote sports development in developing countries. They are explained as follows:

  • Establishment, development, and strengthening of appropriate institutions for sports development. The establishment, development, and strengthening of key institutions will promote sports policy formulation and implementation, financing, education, sanity, and publicity in the sports sector. These institutions include government institutions, international sports federations, financial institutions, and the media. Governments provide policy directions to create an enabling environment for sports development. According to Xiong (2007 cited in Hallmann, Wicker, Breuer, & Schönherr, 2012), the Chinese government identified the role of sports infrastructure in the nation’s fitness level and implemented a nationwide policy in 1995 to improve spending on sports in China. Sports thrive on certain pre-established rules which help to fulfil the core values of sports which in the end provide fair play in competitions. International sports federations have the responsibility to manage and monitor the running of the various sports disciplines globally. The media promote sports by helping spectators have access to sports information and by this whipping up public interest in sports and reducing the costs of asymmetric information. Financial institutions provide financial support, and reliable sports insurance plan and packages to governments, business organisations, entrepreneurs, individuals, sports clubs, and sports personnel for the financing of their sporting and economic activities.
  • Development and maintenance of modern sports infrastructural facilities: Both the public sector and the private sector must invest heavily in sports infrastructure to promote sports development. However, governments’ contribution is expected to be more than that of the private sector because of the initial huge capital outlays involved in infrastructural development. Sports infrastructure differs from sport to sport because different sports have different requirements for their facilities. For example, there must be football and hockey pitches, titan tracks, swimming pools, etc. In the 2020 New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) Manifesto, the party promised that between 2021 and 2024 it would build fully-functional multi-purpose youth and sports centres of excellence in each of the six newly created regions, and to host and organise the 13th African Games in 2023, which would enable the government to construct a national Olympic stadium complex to bridge the nation’s sports infrastructure deficit.
  • Training and development of sports administrators, instructors/trainers/coaches, and referees: Sports administrators, instructors/trainers/coaches and referees are very important in managing administrative issues in sports, teaching the basic tenets, skills, and rules of sports to sportsmen and sportswomen and to those who may want to keep fit, and for officiating games at both the grassroots and elite levels. These sports instructors/trainers/coaches can work in amateur, professional and semi-professional sports clubs, schools, colleges, universities, etc.
  • Identification and development of talents: The early identification and the development of talented performers are crucial for sports development because sports are synonymous with age. Experts must be sent round the nooks and crannies of communities to identify talented youth or children and nurture them to become successful sportsmen and sportswomen. Educational institutions can also serve as avenues for talents identification and development. These include universities, sports colleges, fitness centres, primary schools, Junior High Schools, Senior High Schools, and Sports Academies, as well as local communities’ sporting clubs. This requires adequate financial resource injections. Jacob (2014) wrote that the quality and appropriateness of the sport talent identification and development environment was a major factor that influenced all sportsmen and women in their sporting careers in Kenya.
  • Mentoring and role modelling: Mentoring and role modelling involve the use of retired sports personnel and current professional sports personnel (both local and foreign) to inspire up-and-coming stars to reach greater heights. At major competitions, mentors are needed around teams to calm nerves through pep talks. According to McQuade, Davis & Nash (2015), the Department for Education and Skills (DfES, 2005) and Green (2002), in the field of education in England and Wales, mentoring is a form of induction or apprenticeship that helps to develop competency, provide challenges, and to support progression.
  • Promotion of international relations and linkages: Associating with international sports associations, sporting clubs of major sporting nations, sports companies, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and participating in international sporting events help to tap new innovations, and technical assistance in the new ways of doing things in sports. It helps one to avoid reinventing the wheel. According to Maguire (2018) today’s sports hinges on global network of interdependency chains that are influenced by global flows and inequality in power relations. Souchaud (1996c, cited in Andreff, 2001) mentioned that Germany signed bilateral agreements with over 40 developing countries; co-operation existed between France and all French speaking developing countries and some English speaking Least Developed Countries and some Central Eastern European countries (CEECs), etc. These must be revisited by developing nations to enable them develop sports.
  • Sponsorships: Sponsorship is the financial and material support given to sporting disciplines, clubs, sports associations, and sports personnel for the mutual benefits of the sponsor and the entity or person sponsored. Sponsorships increase the revenues of clubs, associations, and sports personnel. Increased revenue from sponsorships helps to increase participation in sports, improves performances of sports personnel and sports organisations, and help to attract large followings. Sponsors benefit from the commercialisation of sports through high profile coverage of sports which ensures a high profile for companies and their products (Bitesize, 2021). For example, Toyota signed an eight-year deal that was worth $1.64 billion with the International Olympic Committee in 2015, spanning 2017 to 2024 (Sport Business, 2016, cited in Nuseir, 2020).
  • Development of promotional programmes: Sports promotion helps to stimulate spectators’ interest and increase participation in sports. The organisation of sporting competitions like domestic clubs’ leagues, schools and colleges games at the district level, regional level, and national level, and participation in international competitions are important for sports development. Companies or business firms use promotional mix such as advertising, public relations, sales promotion (direct marketing), and personal selling as multi-dimensional communication tools to brand their products and services so as to stimulate the taste, desire, preference and emotions of prospective consumers to patronise their services or products. In recent times, celebrities in the entertainment industry are used to attract people to sporting events.According to Shank (2019, cited in Greenwell & Thorn, 2012), prudent sports organisations take a strategic approach to sports marketing.
  • Adequate remunerations and construction of appropriate incentive packages for sports personnel: The payments of adequate and appropriate financial and material rewards to employees in organisations boost employees’ morale to work hard to increase productivity, and to attract and keep their best employees. These are done because of differences in skills, interests, needs, and preferences of employees which make each employee unique. The development of sports in developing countries will require heavy financial and material commitments on the part of owners of sporting clubs/teams, national and local governments, and international bodies. This will motivate the best talents to give off their best and to make sports more attractive to prospective followers of sports so that sports will become profitable to entrepreneurs in sport
  • Prevention of deadly sports disasters: There is the need to prevent disasters in sports.  Stadium disasters, plane crushes, vehicular accidents, terrorism, and hooliganisms result in deaths and injuries to sportsmen and sportswomen, officialdom, and spectators. These unfortunate incidents discourage prospective sportsmen and women from participating in sports, and consumers of sporting activities from enjoying them as well as preventing them from visiting the various sports centres. Sports personnel must be educated to wear appropriate protective gears, and spectators must be educated on the negative consequences of hooliganism. Intelligence gathering by the security agencies before and during major sporting events will also help prevent some of the unfortunate situations at sporting events. Not to be seen as a way of revisiting dark memories or days of sports, but as a reminder of the lessons to be learnt, the author wishes to refer to: (1) May 24, 1964 – Lima, Peru: 318 people died and another 500 injured in riots at the National Stadium. (2) May 9, 2001 – Accra, Ghana: at least 123 people died in a stampede after police fired tear gas to disperse disgruntled fans who threw broken chairs onto the field after a match between Accra Hearts of Oaks FC and Kumasi Asante Kotoko SC, etc. (http://www.pr-inside.com/football-stadium-disasters-r1150259.htm).
  • Economic Benefits of Sports Development in Developing Countries

Economic theory and economic development experiences of the developed world starting with Britain explain that countries that develop are those that place more emphasis on industrialisation throughout their development paths. However, developing nations still struggle to industrilise. Nzau (2010) reported that a bad political culture, weak political and social institutions, poor leadership and bad governance seem to have contributed to less industrialised state of African countries. By virtue of these deficiencies in developing nations’ pursuit of industrialisation, they must develop sports which when properly harnessed can help promote economic growth and development. Allah (2018) wrote that understanding the link between sports and economics can increase developing nations’ knowledge in how sports can be used to promote economic development. Sports development offers the following benefits to societies:

  • Jobs creation: Many projects that are carried out by governments in the sports sector, profitable investments of sports companies, sports clubs, sports associations and other ancillary companies toward the development of sports provide job opportunities to many people. For example, sports offer jobs to sports administrators, managers, coaches, instructors, sportsmen and sportswomen, and workers of companies involved in sports related activities (such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Lotto, etc.), food vendors, hoteliers, cleaners, security officers, accountants, secretaries, sports reporters and analysts, retailers, and wholesalers who contribute to the production and sale of sports kit and paraphernalia, etc. This has helped to reduce unemployment in many countries. The youth in Africa account for about 60% of Africa’s unemployed population, according to the World Bank (Ighobor, 2017). The African Development Bank Group (2018) likewise projected that Africa’s youth population of 1.2 billion would more than double by 2050. Each year, 10 to 12 million young Africans join the job market. If the increased youth population is properly harnessed, it could support increased productivity, and stronger and more inclusive sustainable economic growth and development across the African continent. Boateng (2018) reported that sports created about 4.46 million jobs, representing 2.12% of total employment in the European Union.
  • Incomes for clubs, sports personnel and ancillary workers: Sports have provided career opportunities to many people as mentioned above. Workers in the sports’ sector and other ancillary sectors are paid wages and salaries which are spent on goods and services. Savings of these categories of people are also borrowed and invested by deficit spending units to produce more goods and services, and for consumption of goods and services. Western (2020) provided a list of the twenty (20) richest athletes in the world in 2020, as compiled from Forbesand Celebrity Net Worth. This list included: Vince McMahon, an American former professional wrestler, who had a net worth to the tune of $2.2 billion. Tiger Woods, an American professional golfer, had a net worth estimated at about $740 million. Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese professional footballer, had a net worth of $460 million, etc. Through their multiplier effects, these incomes earned have greater positive impact on economic growth and development of economies.
  • Tax revenues for governments: Governments contribute to economic activities by providing social overhead infrastructural facilities, addressing market failures, etc. (Acquah-Sam, 2020). These governments’ financed activities contribute to the growth of economies of the world. Road tolls, income taxes, and corporate taxes are paid by sports personnel and companies from wages and salaries and corporate profits. Sports clubs also pay taxes on entrance fees (proceeds) earned from sporting activities for using governments’ sports infrastructural facilities and the incomes from other revenue generating activities of sports clubs. Government activities are financed through tax revenues collected from the citizenry and companies, including those in the sports sector. Lock (2021) reported that in November, 2020, New Jersey generated a total of US$6.23 million in tax from sports betting, down from the previous month’s total of US$7.44 million.
  • Infrastructural development: Sports thrives on adequate sports infrastructure such as sports stadia, tennis courts, hotels, roads, telecommunication networks, market centres. Governments use sports events to influence city development in a more comprehensive manner combining economic, social, environmental and other concerns. In the 2020 New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) Manifesto, the party promised that between 2021 and 2024 it would build a fully-functional multi-purpose youth and sports centre of excellence in each of the six newly- created regions in Ghana in addition to the Ten (10) which were already under construction and near completion. Also, to host and organise the 13th All African Games in 2023, the government of Ghana planned to construct a national Olympic stadium complex to bridge the nation’s sports infrastructure deficit and ultimately build a university for sports development in Ghana. In 2015, FIFA funded a four-star hotel in Rwanda through its Goal projects meant to lessen the expenses that the Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) used to incur on national teams during residential training or on accommodation for visiting national teams (Africa for Africa, 2015).
  • Promotion of political and social cohesion: The victories chalked by local and national sports teams and individual sports persons help promote unity among the citizens of countries. When national teams or football clubs are winning matches at major international tournaments, and boxers and athletes winning boxing fights and races or events at major competitions, one hardly hears citizens talk about partisan politics. Sugden (2010) referred to sports as a social good because of their fraternal and character building qualities and their capacity to bring together different kinds of people, communities and nations through regional sport festivals, club football matches, athletic competitions and international sports competitions.
  • Enhancement of the images of countries: Sports serve as a key strategy for cities and countries to promote their images and global positions, and because of these benefits, nations compete to host major international sporting events, despite the huge costs involved. Whenever sports teams and players are involved in major international competitions, the countries whose nationals are involved in the competitions become household names to rest of the world. This has the effects of boosting aid, grants, international trade, and attracting huge foreign direct investments into various sectors of an economy.
  • Healthier citizens for higher productivity: Sports help reduceheart problems, high cholesterol, mental stress, and high blood pressure. Sports make it possible for people to develop their brains and to think better and faster. During a game, an individuals must make quick decisions within split seconds so that they can outperform their opponents. Physical activities contribute to forming a healthier society. Sports and recreations improve the physical fitness and health of people which in the long run reduce the medical bills of people and nations which would have negatively affected individuals’ living standards and economic growth and development. Those who are more active physically, other things being equal, are more efficient in their jobs hence increasing the productivity of workers and GDP growth.
  • Foreign exchange generation: Remittances from sportsmen, sportswomen, and sports officials who ply their trades in foreign countries, the sale of sports kit overseas by kit producing companies, the transfer fees of footballers, and the organisation of international sporting events generate foreign exchange for countries. The monies foreign sporting personalities and sports fans spend on hotels and other forms of accommodations, meals, water and other goods and services during sporting events help generate foreign exchange for economic development. Hatzigeorgiou (2016) wrote that countries which engage in sporting activities with each other improve their bilateral trade.
  • Conclusion

Sports contribute positively to services sector growth, and to economic growth and development through the benefits sporting activities offer governments and citizens of nations. Sports development from the grassroots to the elite levels will help the services sector of an economy to grow which also impacts on economic growth and development because the services sector is one of the three key sectors of every economy that contribute to economic growth and development.

Governments of developing nations must maximise the returns on their investments in sports by ensuring that all government agencies mandated to promote the development of the sector effectively monitor, evaluate and account for governments’ investments or resources which are committed to the sector’s development. Governments’ interest in sports must not be limited to only national teams, but must include scrutinising progress at grassroots sports and club level management to ensure sports personnel are adequately remunerated and are well treated

Sportsmen and sportswomen must be educated and advised on the efficient use of their wealth or incomes to impact positively on economic growth and development. Developing nations must promote sports development based on the development of appropriate sports infrastructural facilities; natural talents of citizenry (children and youth); climatic conditions; availability of financial, material and human resources; and adaptation and adoptability of the citizenry to foreign sports and sports technologies.

The author is a senior lecturer at Wisconsin International University College, Ghana

 By: Emmanuel Acquah-Sam (PhD)

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