The recent imbroglio between the Football Federation and sport minister Anil Roberts, brought squarely into focus the role of politics in sport. This issue has been the bane of many disputes worldwide as politicians invariably attempt to expand the scope of their influence beyond the board room. In much the same way as there have been longstanding arguments for a separation between state and religion, so there is ample evidence of the need for a separation between state and sports. The challenge, however, lies in defining what the precise role of the state should be.
There are very few sports, internationally and locally, that can be self-sufficient in terms of funding. That is not to say, sports cannot generate revenue. What it means is that sports cannot generate sufficient revenue to also play the development role that it needs to play for all of its young aspirants. It is for this reason that governments are relied upon for the funding to keep the wheels of the sports churning. However, the provision of funding by the state is usually wielded as a big stick by its representative politicians and this is where the breakdown begins.
Each sporting discipline establishes its own administrative body through a variety of methods. Some of these methods are not as transparent as they could be, however, and it is in the regulation of sport that the government needs to be most seen. Policy matters, when it comes to sport, revolve around regulation. The roles of politics in sport are fairly straightforward: regulation, infrastructure, financing, taxation. Regulation. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that the proper structures are in place for the efficient and effective administration of each sport, regardless of whether government funding is provided/required. This government’s mandate must only be to ensure that the governance structures are in place.
Infrastructure. It is the responsibility of the government to create the environment required for the successful pursuit of the sport. This involves providing the facilities and equipment needed for a holistic approach. There are very few truly global sports and these should be provided with the facilities needed at both the junior and senior level for success. Facilities refer to not just the physical infrastructure, but also the human infrastructure needed. This means that we don’t only need the playing field and equipment, but also the coaches. It is the role of the government to create the environment for that to open.
Financing. This is the government’s big stick role. There is no doubt that he who pays the piper usually reserves the right to call the tune, but at the national level, this is as much the government as it is the people who put them there. That is not to say there should not be accountability for monies spent or accountability for performance. What it is to say however is that the accountability must take place across the board. It makes no sense for funding to be provided to, say, boxing, with little or no accountability or public benefit but withheld from, say, football, due to alleged concerns with fiscal accountability. When public funds are being utilised, there needs to be complete transparency and accountability.
This extends not just to the monies used to meet operational expenditures but also monies spent directly by the government on capital expenditure.
Taxation. This corollary to the financing role is government’s avenue to rise financing to meet its obligations to various sports disciplines. It is not unusual for tax revenues from one sport to be used to assist in the development of other sports. At all times, the government needs to balance the taxation regime with an incentive regime designed to encourage private sector involvement in the sport. This is one area in which the concept of the private/public partnership should be exploited to its fullest since the opportunity for win/win is great.
Once government understand their role in sport, our rate of progress will be that much greater. Too much time and energy are wasted on fighting. There is little effort on the part of the politicians to articulate a clear strategy or even pursue a goal driven roadmap. The unfortunate thing in all of that is the many lost generations over the last 25 years. Hopefully, we will not have to lose many more generations before the politicians of today get the wakeup call they so badly need. Sports are integral to the development of any country and with it, the improving lifestyle of the people. Let us hope sooner rather than later, we will witness some change.