Weah forecasts grim future for African sports post-COVID-19

Liberian president and former African and World Footballer of The Year warns of struggle in sports post Covid-19
Liberia’s President George Weah attends the plenary session of the Paris Peace Forum on November 12, 2019 in Paris. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / various sources / AFP)

Liberian president and former African and World Footballer of The Year George Weah has warned that the future of sports on the African continent after the coronavirus will be “bleak”.

Speaking at a recent special webinar organized by the Africa Sports Ventures Group, Weah said that the organizing of sports events or competitions behind closed doors or with minimal crowds will result in a major reduction in sponsorship revenues as companies reduce spending in the wake of coronavirus-inflicted losses.

In his opinion, this poses a huge threat not just to individual sporting clubs across the continent, but also to the league structures within which they exist.

“The lifeblood of sports consists mainly of attendance fees and sponsorships – where these no longer exist, many clubs will collapse and many leagues will close permanently,” said President Weah.

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“It is my considered opinion that the future of sports in Africa after Covid-19 is bleak, and is not guaranteed to recover. There will be an urgent need to resuscitate football and other games.

“Health and recovery of our economies take absolute priority, however it is important that the global funding being raised should recognise the social importance of sport.”

However, head of sport at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Gary Rathbone believes that social media can bring clubs much-needed income as they try and get back into playing again.

“There’s an opportunity for many leagues and many sports federations to start engaging with their consumers via the digital space,” said Rathbone.

“In many American sports, big international leagues, Formula One, consumers can subscribe directly to content without paying for a TV subscription, and there’s an opportunity here on the continent now if federations can start doing that.

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“There are around 300 million people with smartphones across sub-Saharan Africa. If you look at big football clubs in Africa so many of them are not exploiting the digital space on social media. It’s a huge opportunity to monetise the content that they have with advertisers or subscription fees.

“If a club has a million fans and say a quarter of them subscribe for just 50 cents a month, that’s $125,000 a month – much greater than any broadcast TV revenue that they might have got,” he concluded.

The online event, in collaboration with UNESCO, featured presentations from experts, athletes, administrators, marketers and government officials aimed at dealing with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Some of the suggestions included a stronger digital presence, new partnerships in social development, the inclusion of some of Africa’s traditional sports in the mainstream and staging more events on the continent.

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