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FIFA vice-president, JFF boss point to economic benefits of football

Big Money

— Howard Walker

Tuesday, July 22, 2014    

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Against the background of 198,000 visitors travelling from US gateways to Brazil for the just-concluded football World Cup, FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb yesterday touted the economic benefits of the sport.

Webb, who is also president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), highlighted as well the impact the game has on crime, health, tourism, and infrastructure development.

Webb and Jamaica Football Federation President Captain Horace Burrell had easy reference, in yesterday's Observer report of a 12 per cent drop in murders in Jamaica for the month-long tournament.

"That is not just for this World Cup, but every tournament that we host," Webb told the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue headquarters.

"I can assure you that crime reduced in Montego Bay during the Under-17 tournament we hosted here. I can assure you that crime will be reduced when we host the Caribbean Cup here, and crime will be reduced when you host the Under-20 Cup here," he added.

"In Cayman, when we hosted the Women's Under-20 and the Under-15 tournaments... the youths were engaged, crime was reduced," said Webb, who is Caymanian.

"You have seen how it has impacted the South African economy; you have seen what happens to Germany and, of course, the projections for Brazil -- GDP is going to be incredible from a growth perspective," said Webb, who was a business development manager at Fidelity Bank (Cayman) Limited and a member of FIFA's Internal Audit Committee.

He said that when countries host major sporting events they are forced to improve their infrastructure and, with Burrell's support, called on regional governments and private sector entities to invest in top-class sporting facilities.

Webb argued that with that type of investment medical facilities will be improved and obesity rates will reduce among children once they start playing football.

He acknowledged that governments will have a delicate balancing act trying to prioritise between establishing sporting facilities and providing other vital services. However, the long-term benefits, he suggested, would be worth the investment.

"My argument would be to say, well, I am going to help you save millions because you don't have to build bigger prisons, you won't have to build bigger courthouses, you won't have to give the commissioner of police millions of dollars more to employ more police officers," Webb argued.

Sports tourism, he said, generates US$12 trillion annually worldwide, and was one of the growth sectors even during the global recession.

"That's because people are passionate about sport," said Webb. "People will travel, not just for leisure, but for sporting events."

Burrell, who has been advocating the establishment of improved sporting facilities for years, pointed to the economic spin-off from television rights, which he described as "huge".

"That's coverage you can't pay for," he said. "When you look at the hotels, your hotels will be filled to capacity. Then after that you look at all the other little industries that will benefit. But, more importantly, the return visitors that you will be getting; people will want to come back to Jamaica after the event."

He said that, while some people may argue that hosting major sporting events is costly, the returns can amount to more than 100 per cent.

"If you look at it really from just an economic standpoint, looking at the benefits which you would expect to accrue... you may say it's not of any tremendous benefit to have these tournaments. But when you look at what will happen after, you will realise that the benefits are going to be huge. So it's not necessarily going to be immediate, but over time," said Burrell.

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