Owning the Goal: How sport can be an engine for massive economic growth in Africa

It is a language we all speak, and if treated properly can potentially be an engine for massive socio-economic growth in Africa: sport! Banner image: Shutterstock/AGIF
Owning the Goal: How sport can be an engine for massive economic growth in Africa

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub


It is a language we all speak, and if treated properly can potentially be an engine for massive socio-economic growth in Africa: sport! Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Eliud Kipchoge, just to name a few have been ambassadors and examples of the top-tier talent that Africa possesses. Skills and talent are abundant on the continent, however the primary resource that Africa lacks is the infrastructure to support it. Governments need to take the necessary initiatives to prioritise sport as a potential driver for economic growth.

Sport has the capability to generate millions of dollars, if not billions. The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations held in Cameroon saw thousands of football fans travel across Africa to cheer their national teams—and with that came potential for an economic boost to local businesses. Be it roads, health facilities or hotels, football infrastructure and communication networks will not only generate jobs but also help seduce investors and welcome taxpayers. remarked that Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley—whose country boasts a large population of African descent and has seen economic benefits from promoting cricket—hailed Africa’s athletic and economic potential, mentioning the continent has “the ability to create opportunities for so many” through excellence in sport.

The Cameroonian government invested over CFA 520 billion (USD 885 million) renovating and upgrading infrastructure, hospitals, roads, airports, hotels and other sports related facilities; the amount spent on this sport tournament was the highest of any previous edition. Long after the tournament Cameroon will benefit from the renovations and upgraded infrastructure, which will increase its global exposure and provide opportunities for more foreign direct investment.

Read more: The Short and Wining Road to 2030 by Romina Boarini, Director of WISE, OECD

For decades, Western countries have flooded their sports industry with investment as they have realized the amount of revenue this sector adds to their economies. Deloitte’s 2019/2020 annual review of the European Football market illustrated that the European leagues had overall revenues of EUR 25.2 billion, of which EUR 15.1 billion was generated by the “Big Five”: the German Bundesliga, the United Kingdom’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga. With such revenues being generated governments can reinvest money back into the sport industry to further its agenda, repeating the cycle and creating an ecosystem that automatically regenerates itself every financial year.

African governments need to create stronger policies that will incubate the sports industry as it is still in its infancy stage. This sector has the capability of rapidly increasing Africa’s riches because its primary resource—1.3 billion people—possess the raw talent that could spark a new window and vision for the continent. The ability is readily available in Africa but those with it are already seeking opportunities overseas, thus generating revenues abroad and not for their own countries. Providing Africans with local platforms will benefit local economies, as well as nurture home-grown talent and business opportunities. The growth of the sports sector would accommodate other industries needed to support it including hotels, infrastructure, network and communications, education and tourism.

To administer successful sports governance in Africa, governments should consider the following:

  1. Allocate grants to develop and maintain sport infrastructure
  2. Establish official governing bodies dedicated to sports and culture, appointing board members and/or executives that are sport-minded
  3. Present a fixed and sufficient budget to cater to a wide range of sport in the country
  4. Integrate sport into the education system to help develop the culture from a young age
  5. Evaluate development projects related to sports periodically to ensure they are well implemented
  6. Increase funds and tax holidays for sport-based firms

South Africa has taken the lead in Africa by adopting sport development as part of its Horizon 2025 strategy, which aims to develop sport and its values in everyday life to create a nation with a melting pot of champions. The role of inclusiveness in achieving this goal cannot be overlooked, meaning that governments, sport and culture organisations, clubs and athletes need to work together to build and support the sport sector and ensure that the maximum returns are realised.




Read more on the development dynamics of the African Union in OECD's Africa's Development Dynamics, to be released on 4 May 2022

Africa's Development Dynamics