Sports is one of the biggest industries worldwide, brewing billions in terms of money. Not in Mauritius. We had our glory days when stadiums would be jam packed on weekends and when youth assimilated stardom to sports. The enthusiasm has faded out and we see ourselves struggling to give sports the brilliance they deserve. Bringing people back to the stadium or to the practice of sports at competition level seem to be a lost bet. Well, if ever there was any bet. No one seems to care except in words.
Those who have opted for sports are doing well, particularly in individual disciplines like athletics, martial arts, boxing (and related) and weight / power lifting. We do get decent results on the national and international levels. But on the other side, we have a definite problem on collective sports side. While every other country is turning sports into a major economic activity, and by extrapolation, attracting people to more and more high-performance levels, Mauritius seems to be sleeping.
Money in sports is a debatable issue but the fact remains that it invariably leads to impressive development, and that, at all levels. While this should not be the main motivation, it surely plays in the head of future athletes who gaze at possibilities to live a more than decent life through their passion. A general desire, should we say. Who does not want to make a living out of his/her passion? There is a lot of investment behind building a high-performing sportsman and it is nothing more natural than wanting a return on such investment. Sports is a career, albeit a short one, comparable to any other and probably one of the most financially (and socially) rewarding that exist. Living in a secluded island does not make thing easier for Mauritians who choose this path. There is no real scope unless one leaves everything behind and settles in bigger spaces like Europe, the USA or even Africa next door. But I can on firm ground state that Mauritius has got everything to build a solid and sustainable sports industry.
Our education system is still very focused on academics leaving a very narrow space for talent development in arts and sports. This is our cultural heritage. We have always considered those opting for sports as less intellectual, or to be blunt, less intelligent. Things have evolved, society has and humankind too. We have changed our perspective too, but the sequel remains; local investors still do not consider sports as a formal business with high returns.
I am referring to investors and entrepreneurs as I do believe that the creation of such an industry lies within the hands of private ventures and not the Government or the public sector. Private initiatives are far more business and performance oriented, while the State safeguards the regulatory side – both working towards uplifting the national landscape. I fail to understand our insistence on traditional business lines for economic progress, while lies on our doorsteps an industry that just needs some attention to flourish.
There is, I should mention, some investments in the health / fitness centers around the island. The most impressive ones are, and no contest here, the RM Club which is driven by non-Mauritian investments. RM Club set up its first mega fitness and indoor sports center in the north at Forbach, hosting many facilities, including latest-technology fitness (cardio, body building / toning and gym equipment), paddle-tennis and squash courts. The place is complemented by a very nice restaurant, a hair salon and kids’ space. All set as a major incentive to get into shape… and sports. Honestly, I’ve been subscribing to several gyms, paying my subscription but if I attended more than two times, it would be a miracle. At RM Club, I’m a regular keeping at least four sessions a week. The place is busy with happy (and sweating) people around.
RM Club has also partnered with a junior soccer team opening access to international training, infrastructure, coaching and high-level performance monitoring. Academie Football du Nord (AFN) has its own training center, and is backed up by professional coaches, non-coaching staff and a set of medical experts. Kids from an early age up to 18 years old are able to develop their skills and perform under international standards and guidance. That only announces a brilliant future ahead.
Football is in a coma. The king of sports used to drag thousands of people to stadiums during weekends. Sure, it reached dangerous fanatical proportions, peaking to the loss of human lives, but here the link to football and this unfortunate event is still to be proven. Mauritian football was so popular that almost all of us would cast major international leagues (UK, France, Germany and Spain) to second level interests. The national team (nicknamed Club M) reached decent levels in Africa. In African Champions League, our league champion, Sunrise FC reached the quarter final stage, losing against Zamalek, the Egyptian champions. Football was at semi-professional level with many expatriates from Africa playing in our leagues. True that everything was based on communal elements, as most of the ethnic groups had their team: Sunrise FC (Tamils), Cadets Club (Hindus), Dodo Club (Franco-Mauritians), Fire Brigade (African origin people), Scouts Club (Muslims). The adversity on the pitch and in the stands was intense, yet it helped nurture talents that, when united in the national team, would federate people under one flag. Football was canceled because of unfortunate events to which it was unjustly linked. Regionalization, designed in a wrong and hasty manner, did not bring people to stadiums. No one, again, seem to really sit and consider redesigning the system. The local football federation seems happy that football simply exists, and it stops here. Grants are flowing from FIFA and the Government, nothing else matters.
A properly designed business model would address all the issues, even at individual club levels. Today, there is practically no ticket money income, which is traditionally derived from stadium attendance. Clubs survive through sponsorship and grants. Management and players very often put in their personal contribution to help keep their clubs breathing. There used to be a time when clubs would easily get a share of ticket money for attendance reaching between 6,000 to 10,000 supporters a weekend. One thing leading to another, they also benefited from advertisement, merchandising and different kinds of sponsorship ranging from direct financial contribution up to employment of their players under special dispositions (time allowance for training, subsidy, equipment and performance bonuses).
Similar situation exists in motorsports, precisely on the motorcycle arena where I keep a personal interest. Races are improvised by groups of volunteers on a football stadium parking. Obviously, football not dragging crowds anymore, the whole place is desert in weekends. Youngsters, with the help of their mechanics, can practice and race. No official champion is held as the national federation was dismantled years ago. Yet, there is a decent crowd on every practice and race day. Same sad situation for go-karts. Private events only.
There used to be a very animated championship and Go-Kart pilots were highly appreciated by large crowds.
The car rally championship stands at a good level, but again without much support. There’s an impressive vehicle lineup with the Mitsubishi Evos, Subaru WRC, Peugeot Maxi and the likes. The crews contribute to all of this from personal money just to keep the passion alive.
It’s been decades now that the locals are requesting a proper racetrack, nothing doing.
From anger to frustration and now desperation, many have given up hope. In meantime, many are being killed on the roads which are assimilated to racetracks in many brains.
Redbull Car Park Drift, an international event, is always a success when local selections are made. The parking lot is crowded the whole day. This has not opened the eyes of sports promoters unfortunately. Selected drifters compete on a world championship platform usually held in Dubai, and they usually harvest good result. It all confirms that Mauritian talents exist but require proper environment to reach international performance levels.
At one time the local bike clubs were challenging South African riders on regional competition. South Africa is known for its racing DNA but had to deal with a real fight on the tarmac. We have lost our brilliance since.
We could have been an interesting destination for different international championships. If Malaysia can host MotoGP, then why can’t Mauritius at least have second category events such as Moto3, Formula 3, Formula E, Go-Kart races and similar? So many unexploited possibilities is synonym to ‘waste’. It requires just one little spark to ignite the flame.
Today, only a handful of wealthy guys can practice motor sports. There is absolutely no other way, forget incentives than to spend your own money. Sure, these sports are expensive, but would be easier if we were competing at least for official recognition. A championship bearing the true ‘National’ label, where a winner is a legitimate ‘National Champion’
Combat sports are all over the island. Karate, Tae Kwondo, Boxing, Kickboxing, MMA …. All of them are here. Mauritians have won several World Championships in kickboxing and Brasilian Ju-Jutsu. Mrs Ranini Cundasamy has been on the world Muay Thai throne for years and she is revered in Thailand. Curious that no one has ever organized a UFC type of event on the island. I remember vaguely a Fight Night event organized many years ago, regrouping demonstrations and fights in various disciplines. It was a huge success, but that should have been some 15-20 years ago. Why not dream of a major international boxing event? Would Mc Gregor refuse a fight in Mauritius? What can be the windfall gains out of a superstar gala fight? I imagine the hype that such an event would give to Mauritius and massive impact it may have on the tourism industry.
We are the ideal location to host a high-performance sports academy. It would cover the whole of Africa and Asia countries. Maybe I am just a dreamer, but this all makes so much sense. The sun shines almost 365 days in a year, then we could be the summer camp even for Europeans during their harsh snowy winters. Inter season training and refresher camps for major league players, reeducation for injured athletes, strategic retreat, pre-competition team engineering, well there are so many possibilities. Mauritius already enjoys the reputation of a safe and beautiful destination. We have been trying to set-up a medical tourism plan which is taking its time to find pace. Why not a sports destination strategy?
I can go on for pages and pages. There is a need to review and redesign a full eco-system that can cater not only for sound financial returns, but also revamp the whole sporting environment. Franchised models have proven their worth in other countries and there is no doubt that they can beautifully fit the Mauritian landscape. A holistic approach that would cater for early entry to the sports world and development of high-performing international athletes would definitely win the game.
Mauritius boasts of many qualities: bilingual and educated population, strategic location, climatic and socio-economic stability, and many more. What prevents the island from playing a leading role in sports business for the region? We have been hitting our heads trying to create different hubs (freeport, seafood, knowledge, IT, etc.) but never really thought of developing an industry which can unite and uplift the whole nation. Such an industry will definitely give a different edge to our daily life fights: drugs, passivity, chronic diseases and lack of professional orientation. Putting up a real sports industry will absorb a lot of the unemployed population, while yielding decent economic returns to investors and stakeholders. This is where we need to start if we want to see our flag waving on the international sporting scene and if we want to uncover the sleeping talents of our youth.
There is hope.
The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Mauritius has a section on its website mentioning Sports Economy. I understand that there is a particular attention given to this industry. The EDB has also setup a Sports Economic Commission which aims to :
- promote Mauritius as an international centre for the hosting of international multi-disciplinary sports events;
- facilitate and promote the setting up of Mauritius Sportstech Incubators and start-ups;
- regulate, facilitate and issue approval to existing and new sports infrastructure development under the PPP model;
- facilitate the development of track and trail under the sponsorship and partnership of the private sector to promote Sports Tourism;
- develop a new and competitive business model for sports disciplines.
Time is probably right (and ripe) to start a well-engineered venture and tap into an unexploited market.