The 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games is in full swing in the Gold Coast, Australia. By the fourth day of the competition, 8 April 2018, the hosts were not in a generous mood regarding scooping medals at the games. They already had 62 medals, 23 gold, 19 silver and 21 bronze.
Southern Africa, at that stage, only had South Africa on the medals table! The vigorously competitive nature of the Australians is public knowledge in the global sporting community. It has moulded the country into what it is now.
Away from the fanfare of the actual sporting competition is the business side of hosting major events. Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games on four occasions (1962, 1982, 2006 and 2018). The country also hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1956 (Melbourne) and 2000 (Sydney). Australia is a trusted host when it comes to organising mega-events.
South Africa’s bids to host the Olympic Games in 2004 in Cape Town and the 2006 FIFA World Cup did not succeed, as they lost out to Greece and Germany, respectively. However, this did not dampen their spirits, as the country eventually won the bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and as they say, the rest is history.
If Southern Africa is to compete with developing countries in bidding for and organising mega-events, then there is a lot to learn from Australia. A good number of sports lovers in Southern Africa celebrated when the South Africa city of Durban won the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The subsequent bungling by relevant authorities after the initial euphoria really dampened the spirit of sports lovers. Looking at the track record set in terms of the preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Durban 2022 was really an embarrassment. The right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games has now been awarded to the city of Birmingham in England, which is a blow to Africa, in terms of hosting mega multi-sport events. The Durban debacle could also be the reason why South Africa lost out to France for the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Unlike, Australia, South Africa, and Africa by extension, still has a long way to prove itself as a reliable host and major sport events organiser.
The Commonwealth Games are an important multi-sport event, which provides young people from the Commonwealth nations and territories with a unique opportunity to compete against the best in the world. When it comes to major events, the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was indeed a historical achievement and a source of pride, not just for the host country, South Africa but for the continent as a whole. The 2010 FIFA World Cup announced Africa‘s arrival on the world stage in terms of the major league sports business. Having proven beyond reasonable doubt that, given an opportunity, Africa can host fabulous events, the onus is now on other African states to step forward and bid to host other single sport or major multi-sport events. Morocco is now bidding to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup and this can only be good for Africa.
Just like in economics, trade and business, Africa has to compete, even if it has to play “catch up” on many fronts and aspects of life. The rest of the world is not going to mark time for Africa to catch up. Sports administrators can help in promoting and entrenching this competitive spirit in Africa. It is no sin to ask for assistance when it is needed but one must always seek to control their own destiny as well as work towards achieving greater autonomy and independence in all aspects of life, especially sport.
The beautiful Southern African sub-region with its relative peace, stability and economic prosperity should not be spectators while other countries and regions are jostling to host major games and events. Africa’s competitors are not stupid in fighting to host various single and multi-sport major events. Major single and multi-sport events are catalysts for the development of economies, creation of infrastructure and jobs in the host countries. In addition, these events are a means of international branding and promotion of foreign direct investment (FDI) and on-going tourism traffic to the host countries.
Sport is no longer fun and games. It is a big multi-billion-dollar business capable of transforming Southern Africa if the region can get its fair share of the cake in terms of hosting events. International benchmarking is also very important, as it will help to inform the bids that countries put together. African sports administrators should not get excited about travelling to other parts of the world without working to bring the world to Africa.
It is sheer madness! The era of ‘business as usual’ is over. Sports leaders should not let premier events go by without taking deliberate steps to host some of them within the region. Southern African countries such as Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, individually, can, for example, comfortably host world championships or other prestigious events if they plan ahead and work diligently towards accomplishing relevant assignments.
The hard work has to start now!