Not only does sport lead to improved health, disease prevention and community building, but "large-scale sporting events provide macro-level benefits through job creation, investment in public infrastructure and resource mobilisation," reads the 'Sport: An untapped asset' session report of a debate held in Davos in late January.
Indeed, some 2% of global GDP is generated by sports, noted Mel Young, CEO of the Homeless World Cup. But Young added that "we need to look at sport not only in terms of its value to industry, but also in terms of the values it has, and apply these across all sectors".
"There was a general consenus on the values of the sport," Young said, commenting on the session. "Those values coupled with combined action from industry and government can really make a difference," he added.
Young also noted that as public money is currently being poured into various economic recovery plans, "a significant amount of that should be invested in sports," such as building new infrastructure and other places where people can play. The outcome would be "a society based on the values of sport and commitment to fair play," he concluded.
Other panellists also deplored governments' failure to recognise the societal benefits of sport and argued that it should have "a higher priority on the national and global policy agenda," particularly in the current economic context.
For example, they argued that every dollar spent on sport directly saves four dollars in healthcare, making sport "the bailout for the healthcare system". As the current credit crunch might lead to tighter scrutiny of government sport infrastructure investments, the panellists underlined the need for more economic indiators showcasing the benefits of such investments.
The debate also showcased the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as an example of the overall economic and societal development benefits sports can bring. The panellists underlined that the organisation of the event has brought along "a radical overhaul of the country's hospitality and tourism industry, with vast improvements in public transport and IT infrastructure" as well as improved intergovernmental cooperation.
One of the three pillars of the Commission's White Paper on Sport adopted in July 2007 is the economic dimension. "Sport is a dynamic and fast-growing sector with an underestimated macro-economic impact, and can contribute to the Lisbon objectives of growth and job creation," the Commission states, also referring to the contribution of sport to job creation and economic growth in disadvantaged areas.
Meanwhile, the EU executive acknowledges that "sound and comparable data on the economic weight of sport are generally lacking". In the White Paper, it committed to developing a European statistical method for measuring the economic impact of sport as a basis for national statistical sports accounts.