Nelson Mandela aptly said, “Sport has the power to change the world” and “can create hope where there was only despair” but sports can also do so much more.

Sports can boost a country’s development and put in the spotlight some severe problems a country still has to face. From the time the country in question is nominated to the sporting event begins, the world watches the country in question which becomes the world’s subject of analysis. During the event itself, tourism rates climb enormously not only thanks to ticket holding spectators but also thanks to those who have traveled merely to participate in the surrounding celebration. Moreover, every important or side event is being reported through TV, internet and social media. In a word, the country suddenly becomes the centre of attention of a large portion of the world.

Nowadays, several big sporting events such as the FIFA World Championship and the Olympic Games are increasingly assigned to emerging countries. The reasons for this are simple: attracting tourism, creating a relative euphoria in the country, providing the country with an economic boost and celebrating sports people love. There is clear economic evidence that host countries benefited from the hosting or the winning of such events. For example, Spain benefitted from a big merchandising effect after their successes in the FIFA World and UEFA European Championship in 2008 and 2010. The same effect can be observed for Germany in 2014 after they won the FIFA World Cup. However, it remains to be seen whether countries can stand to benefit from international sport competitors in the same ways. On the other hand, there are also other events that are platforms for protests in order to call for political and humanitarian changes in country such as the IAAF Championships.

China and South Africa

The Summer Olympic Games in 2008 in China and the FIFA World Championship in 2010 in South Africa were held with a very positive note as both countries tried to reflect the best image of them to the world. China demonstrated that it could tackle environmental problems by imposing some very strict political measures targeting traffic pollution and its smog. Unfortunately, after the end of the Olympic Games, China did not continue its alleged environmental objectives and instead opted for subjecting its own population to its inhospitable smog. The World Cup in South Africa in 2010 contributed to uniting a lot of people in the country but the long term economic benefits of the event for South Africa’s economy are more than questionable. GDP increased somewhat in the short run from US$ 375 bio (current US$) in 2010 to US$ 417 (current US$) but then shrank to previous levels. Effects on indicators such as unemployment or primary school enrolment (in order to cite only two of them) are also nonexistent.


The IAAF world championships in Moscow 2013 and the Winter Games of 2014 in Russia did not reflect an attractive picture of the country to the world. Not only was Russia blamed for its stance with regard to Ukraine but the Winter Games were also the occasion for many people and organizations to criticize Russia’s relative homophobia. During the events, several protests took place in the country and abroad. Some athletes even used podiums as a platform to denounce the host country. For instance, at the IAAF world championships in Moscow, the Russian winners of the 4×400 relay women kissed on the podium to show their criticism with respect to the homophobic view of Russia. As a consequence, Russia will undoubtely try to use the FIFA World Championship in 2018 as a way of making amends and make up for its image loss, especially to the Western world.


In 2014, Brazil attracted significant attention from abroad as far in advance as before the kickstart of the FIFA World Cup Championship. Mass protest took place in opposition to the country’s misery and inadequate infrastructures. Nonetheless, during the World Cup itself, the country seemed to be celebrating the moment and displayed a picture of relative joy and union to the world which stood in stark contrast with the original protests prior to the launching of the event. As a consequence, tourism accelerated and many people even reported that their stay in Brazil had been so pleasant that they were absolutely willing to return to the country after the World Cup. However, due to the – now famous – failure of the Brazilian football team to win the trophy, the accelerated increase in global consumption that was expected by many observers did not happen. Furthermore, Brazil could not deliver its promise for an economic boom because of its a lack of investment. In 2016, Brazil will have a second chance as host country of the Olympic Games.


In 2022, it will be Qatar’s turn to host the World Cup which will be the highlight of an array of international sporting events, one of which being the Handball World Championship in 2015. Qatar becomes an increasingly popular site for athletes to train and pursue their careers. More and more players, in football or handball for instance, are currently deciding to pursue their professional career in Qatar as the country aims to become a big sports nation and definitely has the means to meet that goal. Nevertheless, humanitarian issues in Qatar are still terrible. Inequalities and the corruption scandal surrounding the attribution of the hosting of the FIFA World Cup Championship in 2018 are fair testaments that this particular country is a long way from convincing the international observers and partners of its credibility and integrity of its projects.


We can see that sports clearly have an influence on the economy of countries. If it is through tourism, merchandising or an image effect, hosting or winning a big sports event influences the development of a country. Last but not least, sports can also put a country’s political or ecological practices in question by attracting worldwide attention.

Image Courtesy: Brent Flanders


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