Facilities development could take Southern African sport to the next level

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By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

The on-going FIFA World Cup is a classic example of heavy investment in the development of sporting facilities done by the Russian government. 

Of course, in Southern Africa, at this stage, one cannot expect such large-scale development of sport facilities when basics such as education, healthcare provision, energy and transport infrastructure are still lagging behind.

However, a long-term strategic approach is needed to ensure the provision of modern sporting infrastructure in Southern African countries. Facilities provision is the bedrock of sport development.

Without sport facilities, it is very difficult to envisage any development that can take place in any country or region.

The awarding of the rights to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada is proof that joint or collective hosting of major sporting events is a possibility and the way to go.

Even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is changing its thinking regarding the hosting of the Olympic Games with a view to making it simpler and affordable to host the games.  

A good number of citizens in various potential host cities have, in organised referenda, have voted against the hosting of major events as they are afraid to bear the brunt of costs through increased taxation and related hidden costs.

The development of facilities in other countries and regions of the world is a welcome development, as it affords those areas opportunities to host major events.

Renowned US-based sports marketing and Olympic affairs expert, Idorenyin Uyoe, has no doubt that Southern Africa has the potential to co-host major events such as the FIFA World Cup, provided meaningful investment in sport stadiums is undertaken.

There is absolutely no doubt that Southern Africa is blessed with abundant sporting talent. The development and commercialisation of sport all over the world is dependent on the facilities available.

Southern Africa is not an exception. The dearth of sports facilities, especially disadvantaged as well as poor urban areas and rural areas compromises the development of sport in Southern Africa.

Facilities are needed for the delivery of sport at all levels, beginning from grassroots to elite development.

It is very difficult to organise any event, no matter how small, without sports facilities, both indoor and outdoor.

It is disheartening to note that facilities provision is done on an ad-hoc basis throughout most of Southern African.

There are very governments or national sports authorities with strategic and operational plans for facilities construction and maintenance.  This is indeed a big challenge.

To avoid an egg and chicken scenario or the proverbial Catch 22 situation, there is a need for diversification of the range of the sports facilities being provided either through public or private funding. 

Nowadays, there are also possibilities for public-private partnerships for infrastructure development in various economic sectors. If there is a sector, that really needs to drive PPPs, it is sport. There is no doubt that concedes that the provision of sports facilities is an expensive undertaking. Sports facilities are invariably expensive to build, maintain and operate.

Southern African governments by themselves do not have the resources to construct all the critical facilities, especially the much-needed multi-purpose indoor sports halls.

However, the onus is on the sports authorities and national sports associations to prove the economic viability and return on investment in sport facilities development.

In addition, one issue that needs to be thoroughly examined is the naming rights of facilities.

Naming rights have never been fully exploited in the context of Southern African sport. 

There are many commercial banks, mobile telephone companies and other business houses that are closely associated with sport that can be approached with good marketing packages to invest in sport facilities for naming rights, hospitality arrangements and exclusive advertising opportunities. 

In recent years, apart from South Africa, Angola and Zambia have invested significantly in world-class sporting facilities.

Other Southern African countries definitely need to follow suit, if there is to be a transformation of the sport industry in the region.

Regardless of initial capital costs as well as on-going maintenance, renovations and refurbishment, sports facilities are a necessity and not a luxury for all Southern African countries.

It is only a question of how they should be provided taking into account the peculiarities of each country’s economy and other related factors.

However, there is a need to exchange ideas, information and experiences in the development of facilities in the region. 

Conferences, seminars and workshops for architects, economists, property developers, facility managers and sports authorities should be convened to facilitate project implementation throughout the region.

In addition, financiers such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa, African Development Bank and World Bank should be engaged with a view to getting them to support infrastructure development in sport.

Without financial injections by various central and local governments, the private sector, as well as other development partners, the construction of sports facilities of world-class standard, will remain a pipe dream for most Southern African countries.

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