Africa: Make the ‘Beautiful Game’ a Track to Greater Trade and Inclusion

The approach of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, beginning 20 November, again illustrates that football is the world’s game – an example of how people from different cultures, backgrounds, and ages can come together for a shared experience.

This year, the world watches in awe as footballing artists including Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the rest of the sport’s finest players demonstrate their craft on the global stage. More than five billion people are expected to tune in when the competition kicks off in Qatar. Our hope is that the tournament will help foster global solidarity in a time beset by war, economic instability and other crises.

As a business, football is also about trade. FIFA estimates that the global football economy is worth about USD 200 billion. Much of this value comes from trade in goods and services and the value of intellectual property associated with the ‘beautiful game’. As world football’s governing body, FIFA itself derives 95% of its revenue from the sale of broadcasting and commercial rights related to the FIFA World Cup.

Intellectual property rules underpin the $200 billion global football economy

Football merchandise is big money. Fans the world over sport the kits of their favourite teams and clubs. All this is underpinned by intellectual property embedded in rights held by governing bodies, tournament organisers, national teams, clubs and players.

Global rules on trade established under the World Trade Organization (WTO) help make all of this possible. By facilitating this, the WTO is one of international football’s biggest supporters.

WTO and FIFA joining hands to spread benefits of football more broadly.

At the same time, the benefits of this global football economy have not been shared by all. While the earnings from broadcasting and commercial rights help support FIFA’s member associations in the developing world, many countries, communities, and people have been unable to tap into the business of football.

Like international trade, football is a vital instrument for progressive economic development, inclusion and equity. It is thus fitting that the WTO and FIFA are now joining hands to try to spread the benefits of growth in men’s and women’s football beyond the pitch, the boardrooms and FIFA’s 211 member associations.

A key mechanism for doing this will be to diversify the global networks of suppliers that feed into FIFA merchandising. The aim is to encourage more football-related merchandise to be sourced from the world’s poorest countries and from the millions of small enterprises that make up the backbone of the global economy.

African cotton producers are examples of potential beneficiaries in communities.

For example, the WTO and FIFA will seek to boost the sourcing of cotton used in FIFA’s sportswear and other merchandising from least-developed countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, where cotton is a particularly important source of livelihoods and export revenue. Connecting vulnerable producers in these countries to important football value chains would create jobs, boost growth, and improve people’s lives.  The two organisations will engage in joint analysis of football-related value chains to find additional opportunities to promote inclusive outcomes.

Additionally, the WTO and FIFA are urging global merchandise manufacturers to join the “call for action” launched by the WTO, the United Nations and the International Trade Centre in July to invest in sourcing and value addition in least developed countries that are not part of their existing supply chains.

We want football to be a greater force for good and provide support for women’s empowerment.

The two organisations will also seek to develop activities that leverage football’s influence to support economic empowerment, particularly of women, as well as to shed light on the game’s economic impact in terms of generating global economic growth and the role it can play in fostering global trade and development.

Football is a force for good in the excitement and joy it brings to its fans around the world. It can be an even greater force for good by furthering economic inclusion and development. Through our closer collaboration, and by using the trading system and football as instruments for economic inclusion, we can make the’ beautiful game’ shine even brighter.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Director-General of the World Trade Organization; Gianni Infantino is President of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).


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