Sports is more than just games, it has been proved an effective catalyst for development, one that offers tangible benefits to individuals, communities and nations alike. The UN has long believed that sport is a practical and a cost-effective means to assist in achieving the millenium development goals and even peace. Sport-related activities have always been an integral part of all UN peacekeeping missions to foster goodwill within communities.
Experts from fields as diverse as development, education, health and economics agree, that by teaching important values and life skills such as honest endeavour, teamwork, communication, inclusion, discipline and fair play, sports can indeed enhance human development.
As a result countries have broadened their perception of sports and are today harnessing its potential to boost productivity and national development. For example, compulsory corporate fitness programmes in Australia have successfully reduced absenteeism by 23 to 50 per cent. And in Canada the sports tourism industry is credited with pulling in more than US$2 billion annually. Iran meanwhile is using football to reintegrate its orphans back into society.
Australia stands out as a country, which has made development of sports and fitness a national priority. In its annual report Cricket Australia notes that smooth integration between the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors during the 2006/07 Ashes Test series and the ODI series, attracted some 37,000 international visitors who stayed for 29.5 days and spent $10,425 per person during their stay.
Despite this global shift to harness sports for development, India continues to use its popular sports like cricket largely for recreational purposes. While the country does invest in sports, it is still far from considering sports itself as an investment. This is reflected in the lack of any studies quantifying the socio-economic impact of sports such as cricket on the country’s local or even national economy.
Even studies done by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) on the 2010 CWG games, point out that the games, which are predicted to attract 10 million international tourists and generate 5-lakh jobs, would only result in long-term national gains, if they are properly managed.
Delhi could learn from Barcelona, where the meticulous spending of more than £15 billion on the 1992 Olympics games prompted a 15-year regeneration of the city. Creating over 20,000 permanent jobs, the games left the city with an Olympic legacy, which has resulted in Barcelona becoming a leading short, break destination for European holidaymakers. Today this country is a model from a sporting, organizational and urban planning perspective.
Or we could look at England where each cricket match at Lord’s is so well organised that it pumps up to £2.16 million into the local economy and creates 600 temporary jobs, per day. In India, which already generates some 60 per cent of the world’s total cricket income, sports can do wonders for the country, boost our GDP and put us on the international map, provided it is we develop and package it prudently.
A small start has already been made with states waking up to the potential of sports tourism. If Maharashtra is developing water sports like yachting, then Kashmir is advertising its 300 acres Royal Springs Golf Course over looking the famous Dal Lake. But we still have a long way to go before the country actually starts using sports for effecting social change.