Government intervention needed to save sports post Covid-19

Monday May 18 2020

It is beginning to dawn on all of us that Covid-19 will be with us for a long time, and we all just need to adjust our lives to live with this disease.

Spectator-filled stadiums, marathon races and other sporting events where one could barely stretch their arms without touching the other, will be a thing of the past; at least for the foreseeable future.

This year’s London Marathon, an event which normally attracts more than 50,000 participants, was originally scheduled for April 26 but had to be postponed to October 4; with the organisers now saying the event will be held for less than 100 elite runners only.

While this move will deny thousands of amateur/fun and charity runners the opportunity to participate at the event, organisers will probably be able to attract huge TV viewership raking in the dollars and keeping the sponsors happy.

The English Premier League is also considering resuming play without fans. Despite empty stadiums, the league - with its more than four billion TV viewers, is unlikely to witness change in its sponsorship and TV revenues.

And, who knows, with many of us staying at home, their viewership might just increase.

Back home, pre-Covid-19, majority of our sports federations were already struggling to get sizeable fans to the stands or even have any quality live feeds to our homes.

Given this new scenario of zero spectators at stadiums, what shall they offer corporate sponsors?

Not to mention, a number of the usual sponsors have taken huge financial hits; with some even forced to lay off staff. Clearly, spending money on empty stadiums and almost no television will not be top priority for their business recovery strategies.

Without sponsorship funds and limited government funding, team sports will be hit hard in the short term; with elite athletes being our only hope to keep our flag flying when sports restart.

Former world javelin champion Julius Yego, at a recent webinar organised by the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, commented that while elite athletes can sustain the training during this season, young and upcoming athletes might not have that privilege, meaning that we might lose on a whole generation of champions.

The government, through tax policies, relaxation of regulations on betting and watershed, can create incentives for sponsors. However, all this depends our whether local media will step in to provide quality live coverage.