Unleashing the Power of Sports Federations: Transforming the Middle East’s Sporting Landscape
September 28, 2023
In this View From piece Patrick Raupach, Partner and Head of Public Sector at Portas Consulting, looks into the region’s efforts to transform the national sports federations landscape.
The vital role of sports federations in sport sector development
In the ever-evolving world of sports, the significance of sports federations cannot be overstated. These organizations, tasked with governing and promoting specific sports, are the linchpins of a nation’s sporting ecosystem. Across the Middle East, where sporting ambitions are soaring to new heights, sports federations are emerging as key drivers of transformation.
Middle East sport sector ambitions:
The Middle East has set its sights on becoming a global sporting hub, with countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar leading the charge. These ambitions are underpinned by a vision to diversify their economies, enhance national well-being, and boost their global standing. To achieve these objectives, sports sector development is not just a goal; it’s a strategic imperative. However, historically the Middle Eastern countries have grappled with several challenges in the sports sector:
- Lack of federation long-term planning: Many sports federations lacked coherent, long-term strategies, resulting in inconsistent participation growth, immature competition structures and lack of connected talent-pathways.
- Limited sports offering: Administrational burdens and lack of government support mechanisms hindered the incorporation and evolution of new sports.
- High-Performance Focus: An overemphasis on high-performance sports often overshadowed the need for mass participation and grassroots development.
- Lack of private sector involvement: The commercial side of sports was still in its nascent stages, limiting revenue-generating opportunities for sports federations.
- Limited sports infrastructure: The region faced a scarcity of sports facilities and grassroots programs, hampering widespread participation.
Sports Federation transformation efforts in the Middle East:
The Middle East has recently experienced exceptional efforts in addressing sector challenges through significant investment in transforming the federations landscape. Saudi Arabia’s efforts in addressing these challenges are a standout example of transformative change:
- Diversification of the sports offering: From 32 federations in 2015 to 97 in 2023, Saudi Arabia’s commitment to diversifying its sports portfolio is evident. This approach ensures a comprehensive approach to sports development, addressing a wide spectrum of sporting disciplines.
- Significant funding boost: An ambitious SR2.6 billion ($693 million) strategy to support Saudi sports federations has been launched by the Saudi Ministry of Sports as part of the Kingdom’s Quality of Life program.This financial injection is matched by a concerted effort to upskill federation capabilities and enhance their capacity to deliver on their mandates.
- Dedicated elite-sports program: In line with the country’s ambitions of winning podiums in international sporting competitions, a centralized elite athlete development program has been launched. The scheme is aimed at improving efficiency and preparation of athletes in the long term, achieving excellence in international sports, and creating high-performance environments based on international standards.
- Commercialization of sports:Larger federations, such as the Saudi Motorsports and the Saudi Equestrian Federations, have been supported to venture into the commercial realm by establishing professionalized commercial arms, marking a significant step towards monetizing sports in the region.
Impact of Federation transformation programs:
The effects of these government led transformation efforts ripple through the Middle East’s sports sector:
- Attracting and hosting major sporting events: A robust sports sector is a magnet for hosting major sporting events. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar are vying for the opportunity to host global competitions, bolstering their international profiles.The successful hosting of globally renowned events, exemplified by the recent Qatar Football World Cup, and the continuous expansion of an impressive sports event portfolio in the Middle Eastern countries can be attributed to the maturing structures within national sports federations.
- Stimulating participation: Driven and inspired by the launch of a comprehensive series of government-backed events and initiatives, the region has witnessed a substantial surge in participation rates in sports and physical activity.
- Gender parity: The transformation of the Middle Eastern sports systems over the past 5 years has allowed for equal opportunities from the outset e.g., sports participation for females in Saudi Arabia has increased by 150% from 2015 to 2021and almost all 97 sports federations and committees in Saudi Arabia have female representation on their leadership teams.
- Economic Growth: Commercialization initiatives are starting to generate economic opportunities, from lucrative sponsorships to a surge in sports tourism revenues.
Overcoming remaining challenges
However, despite the progress, challenges persist, and continued public sector intervention and development efforts are crucial:
- Sustainable funding streams: Consistent, long-term funding is paramount to prevent regression and sustain development efforts. The current practice of allocating budgets on a year-to-year basis doesn’t enable federations to plan effectively for Olympic or Asian Games cycles.
- Sports integration: Governing bodies should ensure consistent support for smaller and emerging federations, helping them grow their technical and operational capabilities to become engrained within the wider sports ecosystem.
- Sports infrastructure: One of the primary obstacles to expanding the sports landscape in the Middle East and unlocking its full potential for participation lies in the inadequacy of both the quantity and quality of sports facilities. For instance, in Riyadh alone, more than 1,200 additional sports facilities are needed to satisfy the latent demand within the city.
- Workforce development: Building a skilled sports workforce, and connected career pathwaysare vital for long-term success.
- Private sector partnerships: Collaborations with the private sector will be essential to unlock the full commercial potential of the sports sector and to achieve the ambitious sport sector targets set by Middle Eastern economies.
In conclusion, the Middle East’s sports federations are emerging as the driving force behind the region’s sports sector development. Through visionary leadership and strategic investments, they are effectively addressing historic challenges, diversifying sports portfolios, and elevated the region’s profile on the global sports stage. The impact of these transformations is evident in the successful hosting of prestigious events like the, the surge in participation rates, and the significant economic growth attributed to commercialization efforts. Nevertheless, the journey ahead is not without its share of challenges. Sustaining funding streams, deepening private sector partnerships, nurturing a skilled sports workforce, and enhancing spending efficiency within federations will be imperative to ensure continued growth. The Middle East is well on its way to becoming a global sports powerhouse, firmly establishing its presence in the world of sports, and contributing to the region’s broader ambitions of economic diversification and international recognition.