Sports diplomacy issues (5): a shop window at all costs!
Dr. Gilles Klein, 28 April 2017
When it comes to sports diplomacy, we are still revising the classics. Everyone remembers the famous toast on 24th July 1904 by Pierre de Coubertin to the British government. He repeated a sentence of the bishop of Pennsylvania which remains attributed to the founder of the new Olympic Games: “it is more important in these Olympiads to take part than to win. Remember, Gentlemen, these strong words, the most important in life is not the triumph but the combat. The essential is not to have vanquished but to have fought well”.
As we observed last week concerning boycotts, for some states, the essential is mainly to try not to fight. By canceling their visibility on the sporting stage, they increased it considerably on the diplomatic stage. However, participation in the great events remains the major objective in most cases. We also saw that for the developing countries, there is a risk of forgetting the long-term objectives for education, training, and employment. They also risk forgetting the budgetary constraints and limitations.
Break the shop window! The faithful reader may remember that the African Cup of Nations (ACN) mobilizes all the attention and often a major part of the budget of an African minister of Youth and sports. The national soccer team is the shop window of the national sport. A shop window that does focus all the attention of the public, amateur, spectator and consumer of the major international sports events, in Africa or elsewhere. Even when the national team doesn’t take part in the competition, the latter remains a major event and is a shop window attracting numerous clients.
Conakry, Guinean capital, February 2017. This year, the national team has not qualified for the CAN final phase in Gabon. Usually, when the national Syli plays a match at the Biennale of African soccer, the country comes alive. Some musical groups play at the major crossroads junctions. Public transport taxis fly the national flag. Supporters are rushing to the Madina market to purchase jerseys of the Guinean eleven.
Compared to when Guinea has played in this competition, Conakry, from the high suburbs to downtown, is less vibrant. The fans are meeting, either amongst family or at a neighbors’ house, either in offices or in video clubs, to follow the progress of their respective favorite teams. The Guinean supporters are split between the teams of neighboring countries in contention: Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast. This year, they ended up accepting not seeing their team play in Gabon, with all looking ahead to the future.
The Guinean spectators were filled with joy some two years before in Ethiopia. A hope that has helped them into the saddle of our second diplomatic strategy: to organize a major event. Let us remember. Addis Abeba. 20 September 2014. The candidate States of the 2019 and 2021 ACN organization are waiting impatiently for the verdict. Cameroon is selected in 2019, Ivory Coast for 2021. Against all expectations, Guinea is also chosen to house the African Cup in 2023. That time, the country succeeded. Guinea will welcome the continental tournament. For the first time in its history, it will organize a major event.
The politician's act. It must proceed quickly now and it will not be easy. All remember. The Nongo stadium’s construction with the support of the Chinese lasted four years. On 30 September 2016, the Guinean minister of sports signs a partnership with a Chinese company. It covers the study, the search for financing and the realization of three major stadiums meeting international standards in the Guinean regions. The feasibility studies should start next November, before the beginning of the works on the grounds in Labbé, Kankan, and N’Zeérékoré which are the selected cities.
In January 2017, President Alpha Condé appoints the members of the Organization Committee of the African Cup of Nations (COCAN). CAN transforms it into a political affair: strategic orientations, infrastructural and festival preparations, budgetary allocation of the planned investments, the realization of the related infrastructures, coordination of administrations and private partners, etc. In sum, a whole country mobilizes at major budget reinforcements. A country whose national budget is 15 thousand billion of Guinean francs. Which is equivalent to 1,5 billion euros, that's to say almost the amount for the organization of two ACNs in Gabon.
The arrival of President Ahmad Ahmad at the head of CAN risks a reshuffling of the cards. Indeed, the new African soccer management team attacked the allocation of this competition to Guinea in September 2014. The President of the Council of soccer associations in Austral Africa (Cosafa), Phillip Chiyangwa has called into question the allocation of the African Cups of Nations 2019, 2021 and 2023, to Cameroon, Ivory Coast and to Guinea. One who has been the main supporter of the new president of the African soccer confederation wants to review the designation of hosting countries for the three next ACNs.
The organization of a major event shakes not only the world of sport and its institutions. The budgets involved often lead to turmoil in the national political spheres. The organization of the 2017 CAN was used as a political argument during and after the last presidential campaign. The press has reported it. Jean Ping, former President of the Commission of the African Union and Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabonese president, confronted each other during the last Gabonese presidential election. Following the elections, Mr. Ping refused to recognize the re-election of Mr. Bongo, validated by the Constitutional Court. The first has fed the polemic with the government using the argument of the cost of the African Cup of Nations (CAN 2017). According to his team, the organization in 2012 and 2017 of the CAN would have cost the Gabonese taxpayer the sum of 863 billion CFA francs (1,3 billion euros).
Beyond these political polemics, do the developing or the developed countries really have an interest in organizing the major international sports events? The expenditure records advocate a negative answer. Since the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, the budgets have exploded. When Catalonia and Spain spent 1,6 billion Euros, the budgets of Beijing and London are Pharaonic. In 2008, the Chinese budget for the Beijing Games was 42 billion US dollars, inter alia, 2,5 billion for the sports infrastructures and 26,5 billion for transport infrastructures. In 2012, for the London Games, the United Kingdom originally planned a far lower budget than that of Beijing but that amounted all the same to 7,8 billion for the transports and 1,2 billion for the Olympic stadium.
Instead, it appears that these huge expenditures have been beneficial for the two countries’ economic activity. In Beijing, the construction of infrastructures created more than 1,8 millions jobs, increased the GDP by 12,8% for the city of Beijing and 1% of the Chinese GDP. The London Games created 300,000 jobs and an increase of the London GDP by 1%. Thus, the organization of the Olympic games costs money for the cities and organizing countries but can also bring in a lot.
The benefits are considered on three shortcomings. The new infrastructures, notably the transport ones, cause other collateral benefits. For example, the increase in tourism. The Beijing Games attracted 500,000 tourists and 1 million Chinese. The London Games attracted 30,000 tourists and 800,000 British. Otherwise, the whole country economy benefits from the Games organization. The heads of states of the organizing country build on the event to negotiate some contracts with other heads of states. It is estimated that during the 2012 London Games, David Cameron would have held 17 international summits trying to obtain 1 billion pounds of contracts.
Of course, there is no comparison between the organization of the London games and of 2023 CAN in Guinea. The budgets are very different, the challenges as well. But all these countries, either developed or developing, are looking to increase their international influence through sport. The organization budgets are in fact the first tool of sports diplomacy.
Between developed and developing countries, the case of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is interesting to highlight. Except for India, these countries, so-called emerging, are those which have or will organize the largest number of major sports events on a global dimension: Beijing 2008, South Africa 2010, Sotchi 2014, Brazil 2014, Rio de Janeiro 2016, Russia 2018. Who benefits from these events? Undoubtedly not the population?
Such as for ACN in Gabon and the London Games, the sums have been unreasonable: 32 billion US dollars for the Beijing Games, 50 billion for Sotchi 2014, 13 billion for the World Cup in Brazil, 16, 5 billion for the Rio Games. These numbers are estimated without counting the over expenditures. Then, more than 100 billion US dollars have been expended for the organization of four sports mega-events in the BRICS countries.
What makes the BRICS rush to organize such events and devote to them such budgets? It is obvious. Sport allows them to be visible at all costs on the international stage and to guarantee them good publicity. It is a way to attract investors, often foreigners, who in reality are the biggest receivers of the organization of major events. To benefit from economic spin-offs, the governing class wishes to show to the economic world that it is able to organize these great events. That it is also able to guarantee some social stability to enable investors to be at ease in establishing them in the organizer country.
Ensuring social stability to attract investors? It is not that simple! One remembers this Wednesday 6 July 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators call for the boycott of the Olympic Games and ask for more investment in the public services. A professor then declared: “this government says that there is no money for health, education, but he has money for the OG. It is absurd! That is why, as public servants, we are in the streets to fight for our rights”.
Next: 5 May 2017 – Sport diplomacy issues (6): power and superpower.