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New York (AFP) – Africa remains a vast and under-tapped market for the world’s major sports, with thousands of athletes poised to join the ranks on the international stage if more investment were to be made, industry leaders and stars say.
But more government-private partnerships are needed to grow African sports and bring young players to the major leagues of soccer, basketball and even American football, participants at a business forum said Monday.
At the event, which took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, NBA commissioner Adam Silver hailed Africa as an explosion of sporting potential, noting that more than 10% of NBA players in the world’s top basketball league were born in African countries or of African descent.
“Inevitably, more NBA and WNBA players will be discovered, nurtured, developed and then able to play at the highest level,” he said of the region’s younger generations and the benefits of expanding youth training programs there.
Silver also stressed that in order to attract the “literal billions in investment that are needed”, sports in Africa must be seen as economically viable.
“To convince … big companies to invest in infrastructure, we have to show that it’s a real business, that there’s a real return over time,” he said.
The forum included former NBA stars such as Congolese-American Dikembe Mutombo, Nigerian-born WNBA sensation Chiney Ogwumike and current Toronto Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam, a Cameroonian who caught the attention of headhunters at a camp in South Africa.
According to Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora, in the National Football League (NFL), more than 100 current players are African. Umenyiora is leading an NFL initiative to increase the source of new talent to places like Ghana and Nigeria.
“From a business perspective, it would really make sense for me to start doing business in Africa now,” Umenyiora said, adding that the NFL recently opened new practice and training camps in Africa.
Stop being an exporter
The debate comes alongside the launch of the new African Super League, which offers significant prize money to the 24 football clubs that qualify for next year’s first edition.
Patrice Motsepe, president of the Confederation of African Football, said that while Africa’s links with European and American leagues are “important”, the Super League “will bring billions of dollars of football to Africa to pay young Africans.” the most intelligent and talented and keep them on the continent.
100m hurdles gold medalist Tobi Amusan, who in July became Nigeria’s first world champion in freestyle, warned that a lack of infrastructure in Africa, including training facilities, could fuel the exodus of athletes.
“I’m not saying you don’t go to other places,” Amusan, who lives in Texas, told AFP. “But if the government and the private sector have things like this in Africa, we keep our people in our countries and we don’t have them wandering around in other countries.”
The head of the new regional basketball league, Amadou Fall, also spoke about the delicate balance between recruiting international players and developing sports there.
“Africa needs to stop being just an exporter all the time,” said Fall, president of the African Basketball League, which starts in 2021.
© 2022 AFP