A University researcher says there are lessons to be drawn from the Football World Cup in South Africa for developing nations in the Pacific looking to participate in major sports competitions and big events like next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Development studies researcher Dr Rochelle Stewart-Withers is going to Papua New Guinea to study how sporting success can help developing nations' economic and social wellbeing.
She is also analysing the impact of the current Football World Cup on South Africa and wants to follow up in the Pacific by looking at how nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga can achieve positive additional spin-offs from participation in the Rugby World Cup.
Dr Stewart-Withers, from the School of People, Environment and Planning, says that done well sport development, and the infrastructure around it, has wide-ranging benefits for a country, including better health outcomes and reduced crime.
“The economic and social spin-offs from investment in sport in developing nations are vast,” Dr Stewart-Withers says. “In our Pacific region, this can be seen in Papua New Guinea, where both the Australian and New Zealand aid agencies are driving the ‘sport for development’ agenda.”
Papua New Guinea's Government is backing a $20 million bid to get a team into Australia's National Rugby League competition with support from New Zealand and Australian foreign aid agencies. At last year’s Pacific Islands Forum league was identified as one sport worthy of further funding in Papua New Guinea through the Australian and New Zealand Governments, and a further $5million has been pledged.
Papua New Guinea has also developed the Sport for Development Initiative 2007-2016, which has led to the PNG Games being successfully staged last year and winning the right to host the 2015 Pacific Games.
“Interest in the development of rugby league in PNG came to the fore during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. In PNG the focus is not only on elite sport but also investing in grass roots sport development and participation, and focusing on women and youth. Sport is being used to address issues such as crime and violence, drug and alcohol misuse, gender-based violence, gender inequity, HIV/AIDS, and governance.”
One example is the Strongim Komuniti Klab, which is successfully promoting sporting opportunities and delivering life skills training, leadership, and promoting revenue generation activities. During the PNG Games, an HIV quiz survey was undertaken, with 6000 respondents covering all 20 provinces.
Sport for development has much to offer the wider Pacific region, too, and will reach a crescendo when New Zealand hosts the Rugby World Cup. “This event can certainly be utilised positively as a platform of outreach, awareness raising, and advocacy to bring about change for Pacific peoples such as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji,” she says. “It may well present opportunity for sustainable economic development at the micro and macro level, an idea certainly worth further investigation.”
Big sporting events also provide developmental opportunities, although the sheer capital involved in hosting such an event can be crippling as well. The football world cup is the latest, and is being hosted by an African nation for the first time.
Development gains might be achieved in South Africa through both tourist spending and government investment in infrastructure such as roads and transport systems, Dr Stewart-Withers says. ? ?“There is also a lot of debate about whether the event will bring any genuine long-term benefits. Despite an increase in retail spending and employment involved in the construction of stadiums and tourist facilities, much of the profit will go offshore. If we see the opportunities for South Africa to be broader than economic gains, however, it is possible to detect that the world cup is creating a range of new options and possibilities.”