In the latest episode of Connecting Africa, CNN International’s Eleni Giokos learns how passion, talent and opportunity in sport have the potential to transform the continent and stimulate economic sustainability.
Leaders from local and international organisations are aiming to grow football in the region to firstly cultivate and later sustain talent through investment. Will Mbiakop, Executive Chairman of African Sports & Creative Institute says, “If we want to look at sports and make sure that sports move from 0.5% of Africa GDP to 5%, we need to put investments in grassroots, making sports more accessible.”
Mbiakop believes that education and investment are key to maximise on this potential, “FIFA, the NBA, and others understand the socioeconomic value of sports. It starts at school. But we need to have more people educated at governance level. Leaders of federations, leaders of sports ministries, company level marketeers, events, digital, TV production, journalism, and media.”
“More education and more skills will help us deliver a better product. If we have a better product, we do more sales, [and] we definitely need to pour in additional investment into the sports industry,” he says.
Vera Songwe, former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Mission for Africa, tells Giokos that if Africa nurtures talent, the continent will attract more players, “If you look at a team like Brazil or a team like France, they have a number one team, number two team, and number three team. They have depth in their teams. Many of the other African countries do not have that kind of depth.”
South African footballer Siphiwe “Tshaba” Tshabalala agrees that more investment is needed to bring African sports to the forefront. “I can’t wait for Africa to dominate. Let’s build something great here. Let’s have players from Europe wanting to play in Africa, not the other way around. But it’ll need lots and lots of investment to improve the standard of football, to improve the infrastructure, and to improve everything football related.”
Nigerian-raised Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors, has been committed to nurturing African talent since he founded ‘Giants of Africa’ two decades ago, “My goal back then was to find players. We wanted to find the next Dikembe Mutombo, the next Manute Bol, the next Hakeem Olajuwon.”
Today, Ujiri continues to believe in African talent, “One thing you can say about the continent of Africa is the talent of its people. I think sports is going to be the biggest economic driver on the continent in years to come.”
However, for Basketball Africa League President, Amadou Gallo, it will take more than talent alone, “We have to develop all the business functions and all the jobs that are critical in making a professional league a professional organization sustainable,” he tells CNN.
Football analyst Amanda Dlamini points out the need for league development, “Some of the best talents are in international leagues, and yet we don’t have globally competitive leagues.”
Further, the growth of the sports industry in Africa could also be boosted by legislation changes, African free trade, and vertical sports business integration opportunities.
The growth opportunity for women’s football is highlighted by Songwe, who believes that equal representation and major investment will change the industry for the better. “The issue of women’s pay or equal pay for equal service is a global issue. If you were going to remunerate based on attendance, you will not be able to do equal versus equal because, you’re starting with very different bases. What we need to do is interest more people in going to watch those games.”
Desiree Ellis, Head Coach of the South African women’s national soccer team says, “It’s no longer men’s football or women’s football, it’s about football.” She believes Morocco is a good example of how investment leads to growth, “The King has put in a lot of money. The women’s team is going to the World Cup. They’re the holders of the Champions League, both men and women. The investment that they have put in is really paying off.”
Intra-African trade has the potential to unleash more opportunities for growth. According to market research firm, Data Bridge, the global sports apparel sector will be worth almost 280 billion dollars by 2030. Nigerian entrepreneur and ex-NBA agent Ugo Udezue is capitalising on this market with his merchandise and apparel company AFA Sport.
He tells Giokos how he plans to build an AFA Sports legacy, “We’ve created products that tell stories about Africa and that are very conducive for the environment here. We are trying to put together an infrastructure which is symbiotic to the environment, pushes local sports, grassroot sports and professional sports across Africa. In the next three or four years, I see us as the Nike of Africa. We’re very confident that Africa is the next frontier.”