13 – 16 July 2020, we held an Online Series which focused on Global Organisations in Africa that work in partnership with African organisations or within Africa. We had some help from a young sports media enthusiast Ali Humayun who is part of the Leon Mann’s BCOMS Masterclass, which is a dedicated programme to have more BAME representation in sports media run by BCOMS in partnership with London Sport and The Mayor’s Office. Below is a summary blog of the event written by Ali Humayun…
The global lockdown that followed the outbreak of COVID-19 left no stone unturned.
Any part of society that possessed a drop of globalisation felt the reverberations of the ravaging disease.
For football, it was not any different. The beautiful game halted to an unforeseen standstill, and it was not long ago that a return of any kind, at any level, suddenly seemed a distant dream.
Although the action has gradually resumed, with facemasks and sanitizers aplenty, the ambiguity around on-field play during the last few months has shifted the spotlight to matters beyond the pitch.
At Africa Sports Unified, a sports business organisation that focuses on the growth of the pan-African sports market, social distancing therefore provided an opportunity to connect, albeit virtually, with key players in the region’s sports from across the world.
Prior to COVID-19, there have been some fascinating movements in the African sports business eco-system, and lockdown enabled an opportunity to delve into some of the changes that have been occurring in the burgeoning industry.
Thus, ASU Global Series was born.
A jam-packed four days of panel discussions that aimed to enable everyone, from industry professionals to arm-chair enthusiasts, to discover more about the global partnerships and strategies between international and African sports organisations, which have laid the pathway for sustainable growth in the region.
The sessions’ themes provided a rich understanding of pertinent topics, ranging from the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) involvement in Africa to the role of women in leadership positions.
The series kicked off with a panel on the highly anticipated Basketball Africa League (BAL), as well as the Sports for Education and Economic Development (SEED) Project. A thoroughly insightful conversation outlined some of the initiative’s developments, with viewers hearing from both SEED Project alumni and current president, Joseph Lopez.
The panel was then graced by the Amadou Gallo Fall, President of BAL and NBA Africa’s Managing Director, who delivered a keynote speech where he highlighted his inspiration to leverage basketball to facilitate wider educational access, both in his own experience as well to aid aid others on those paths through SEED.
“Sports and playing sport, aligning it with education, can be beneficial,” he confidently stated.
The thought-provoking discourse was maintained the following day with a fascinating session on La Liga’s strategy for Africa, and Spanish top-flight football’s engagement with grassroots.
The panel consisted of La Liga representatives of various African countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda. Their experiences with grassroots football in the region opened up a fascinating discussion around some of the key governance challenges that La Liga has faced in balancing the relationship between national leagues and sports governing bodies in the African context.
While areas for improvement were highlighted, progress and opportunity remained the session’s driving motto.
The positivity did not skip a beat as the ASU Global Series entered its penultimate session, on what was already becoming an underlying theme throughout each discussion – the empowering role of women.
Expertly moderated by the fantastic and endlessly inquisitive Dr. Lindsay Krasnoff of SOAS University, the all-female panel shifted from personal experiences to industry insights to constantly offer golden nuggets in their responses for listeners throughout the discussion.
Collaboration also emerged as a prominent theme of the “Women in Leadership” panel.
Maureen Rosita Ojong, Programme Director of the SEED Project, encapsulated the notion of cooperation when eloquently stating, “sport has taught me that you cannot achieve anything great if you walk alone.”
Sarah Solemale, Senior Governance Services Manager at FIFA, echoed a similar sentiment by emphasising the importance of building networks for future generations.
“Make it easier for those coming after you, build solidarity and give back,” she advised listeners.
Alongside the endless stream of inspiration flowing from the panelists, the session also offered an opportunity to celebrate some of the successes of pan-African sports organisations.
While acknowledging a constant room for growth, the panelists highlighted the pioneering role of many African sports bodies, particularly in regards to women leaders.
Ms. Solemale did not beat around the bush when claiming, “Europe needs to have a look at what Africa is doing before thinking about their own potential actions on the European continent.”
The celebratory mood carried on to the final day, which commemorated the groundbreaking partnership between Arsenal Football Club and Visit Rwanda.
Deji Akande proved to be another skillful moderator, while the panelists were equally impressive as their counterparts of the previous days.
The impact of the “Arsenal x Visit Rwanda” collaboration is evident through a host of impressive figures, such as a 1000% increase ins searches for Rwanda in USA after the partnership’s announcement.
The victory lap began from the outset, with a clean-cut video offering a taste into the impactful nature of the collaboration between the two organisations, and the level to which Arsenal had embraced the rich culture of Rwanda.
As Emmanauel Ruhumuliza, Visit Rwanda’s UK Partnerships Manager, aptly noted, “This is far more than a logo on a sleeve. This is a shared commitment with Arsenal to do something transformational.”
While the session allowed for an appreciation of the partnership’s success, all parties were keen to stress their ambitions for growth – despite any potential obstacles from Covid-19.
“We’ve been very busy”, said Gordon Tannock with an assuring smile when asked about the collaboration’s next steps.
“When we began the partnerships, we knew that focusing on awareness was not enough. We’ve taken some of our ex-players to Rwanda, some of our current players and hopefully later this year we’ll take our women’s team as well.
“We want to ensure that it’s not just about awareness. We want to help tell the story about Rwanda and the premier nature of the country as a tourist destination.”
As a beaming Gabriel Ajala, ASU founder, finally brought the series to a close, he encouraged stakeholders and listeners to build on the week’s productive discourse and “keep the conversation going.”
After four days of discussion, advice and insights from some of the most inspiring minds with a pulse on global sporting organisations’ involvement in Africa, there was enough to takeaway from each session for industry experts, enthusiasts, and even casual listeners.
While social distancing might have created barriers between various parts of society, ASU’s Global Series proved to be a welcome reminder that African sports is continually getting closer to the forefront of the industry.