The Globalisation of Sports Competitions
What is globalisation?
To begin, what exactly is globalisation? It is a commonly used term but it is worth noting that it also delves into other disciplines, not just business. When asked, different individuals give equally different interpretations of their definitions. Taking it from the business point of view, we can consider it to be the concept of treating the world as a single, integrated marketplace. However, if we asked an economist, they could say globalisation is more or less an expansion of global trade. In contrast, a sociologist might interpret globalisation as the sociocultural changes which stem from the international migration of both people and information. A political scientist could potentially define globalisation as the integration of laws which govern the interaction of states and global institutions. Given these differences in the definition of globalisation across different disciplines, understanding if sports have become truly globalised is not an easy task.
Without a doubt, international sports competitions have a long history. The first international sports match was a cricket match between the U.S.A. and Canada in 1844. The first international sports competition was the first modern Summer Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. However, its origins date back to Ancient Greece. The ancient Olympics do not count as international though because only men from Ancient Greek city-states and kingdoms were allowed to compete. It is worth noting that many early examples of international sports competitions took place in generally wealthier European or American countries and cities. Keeping the Summer Olympic Games example, it can also be observed that the subsequent seven editions took place in other European cities with the exception of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics in the U.S.A.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in hosting rights to international sporting events. This can be observed through the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2018 Winter Olympic Games and 2019 Rugby World Cup.
All of these events had one thing in common – they were the first of their kind to be hosted in their respective countries and/or continents. The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the first to take place in the African continent. That summer, South Africa hosted 32 international teams and their fans. Last year, Japan became the first Asian country to host a Rugby Union World Cup. They hosted 20 international teams and their supporters over the September-November period. PyeongChang also became the first South Korean city to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2018. Hence, we can clearly see the more recent globalised trend in the hosting rights of large sports competitions.
Naturally, we expect a diversification in host nations to possess a myriad of benefits, and they do, of course. Usually, these large-scale sports competitions take place in equally large cities. Hosting such a popular event and experiencing a large influx of foreign tourists can have a significantly positive impact on the host nation’s economy. During their stay, visitors pay to be spectators at the event but also stay in local accommodation and cover their necessary daily expenses. A Deloitte report estimates that Rugby World Cup visitors alone can directly contribute between £200-810m GBP into the host nation’s economy. Large companies, especially in the hospitality industry, certainly benefit but local, small and family-run businesses also benefit from such a large inflow of tourists.
FIFA reports that during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, 3.4 million foreign tourists visited all eleven host cities. That is a remarkably large number, without counting the number of tourists that went to less than the eleven Russian host cities and the 3.4 million Russian fans who travelled to all eleven host cities as well. Another benefit would also be the increased cultural awareness and cohesion that is fostered at these types of events as locals get to meet other foreign visitors and vice versa. In this aspect, sport really does become more globalised both in a sociological aspect but also commercially as event tickets are sold to people from all over the world. Taking the example of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, SportsPro reported that the final between England and South Africa saw a record attendance of 70,103. Official ticket prices sold for maximum 100,000 Japanese Yen which is roughly $900 USD, without counting resold tickets. Two Category A tickets even sold for an estimated $31,700 USD on a ticket reselling website.
Host nations can also potentially exploit a boost in their international rankings, if they defy expectations and perform above what was expected of them. Japan, as host nation of last year’s Rugby World Cup is a great example of this. Japan has qualified for every edition of the tournament since 1987 but did not experience great success. In all of the editions before 2019, they were always knocked out of the competition at the pool stage. Japan’s ranking in rugby union increased slightly after the competition. They went from ninth to eighth best in the world. A relatively successful host nation who surprises their fellow competitors can inspire other countries as well. Why? Seeing another country with little experience in both hosting large sports events and competing at the highest level in the chosen sport could potentially encourage another country with a similar background to want to host the next edition. An unexpected but successful host nation could lead to a large surge in popularity in the particular sport, as seen by the large surge in Japanese rugby fans after seeing their country’s success.
However, there are downsides to allowing countries with little hosting experience to organise a huge, international sports competition. Such large sports competitions are often surrounded by equally large scandals or money mismanagement accusations. Brazil, hosts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, were surrounded by scandals regarding the two competitions. The Brazilian government was lambasted by both national and international media for abandoning the infrastructure they built exclusively for both events. Last year, Business Insider remarked that Brazil spent $3 billion USD in building new stadiums for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. One particular stadium, the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, cost the Brazilian government between $220-300 million USD, as well as the lives of three workers who died during construction. This stadium now sits on an abandoned and derelict site. In 2017, Business Insider again reported that the Olympic Village apartments built for the 2016 Rio Olympics (and worth $700 million USD) were abandoned. They were meant to be turned into luxury condos and sold after the Olympics but only 7% were actually sold. This of course, further infuriated locals.
The next edition of the FIFA World Cup is due to take place in Qatar in 2022 although that has already been met with fierce criticism of the alleged human rights violations of migrant workers working on Qatari stadiums. Amnesty International estimates that there are 1.7 million migrant workers in Qatar. They are allegedly paid less than what the recruitment agency in their native countries promised them and have had their passports confiscated so they cannot go back to their respective countries. These examples reflect a failure in achieving globalisation from the political science perspective as regulations in these countries are not as fiercely imposed such as the ones in Europe for example. Experienced European host nations are usually not met with such large scandals as they have a more accomplished background in organising such large-scale competitions.
To conclude, these statements raise the question of whether inexperienced countries should be trusted with such a large responsibility or not. The attempt to globalise sport by reaching other audiences is predominantly welcomed worldwide but certain failures in previous competitions undermine the potential success of the concept of globalised sport. Can inexperienced countries provide the necessary infrastructure such as enough public transport routes and accommodation to withstand the very large volumes of incoming spectators? For the most part, this is usually achieved but unethical abandonment of this infrastructure once the competition is over is unfortunately often a recurring event. These are complex questions which have led to numerous debates on the matter and varying opinions which are of course, a product of personal interpretation. However, one thing is certain, the increase in the diversification of hosting rights of international sports competitions has undoubtedly started. The real question is whether it will continue or not.