Sport mega-events are recognized as significant drivers for re-imaging and branding of destinations due to the global attention they command. Similar to Qatar, South Africa has used sport mega-events to enhance its global reputation and to transform the country’s image. South Africa’s successful hosting, as well as winning, of the 1995 Rugby World Cup provided an opportunity to reposition South Africa in the post-apartheid era, while the 2010 FIFA World Cup represented an occasion to further reinforce the country’s emergence in the global sporting world after years of international isolation.
With the 2010 FIFA World Cup being the first time the event was hosted on the African continent, there was much doubt as to whether a developing nation could host a mega-event of that magnitude—especially after it was hosted so efficiently by a developed economy, Germany, in 2006. For South Africa, the level of requirements to host were therefore perceived to be even higher. The nation faced much criticism, primarily related to high crime rates and safety and security concerns. Moreover, the 2010 FIFA World was also positioned as “Africa’s World Cup”; an occasion to change international perceptions of Africa, and to dispel “Afropessism” and commonly held stereotypes associated with images of poverty and HIV/Aids.
With South Africa’s hosting of a relatively successful tournament, without any major security incidents, the country was viewed in a more positive light. The World Cup not only provided an opportunity to redress the negative media coverage but also showcased other destination attributes, such as being a technologically advanced and hospitable country. The urban imagery of the stadiums in the respective host cities also contributed to the display of a more diverse imagery beyond the wildlife and natural landscapes. Thus, the change in brand image for South Africa (and Africa) has been viewed as one of the most notable legacies from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
While South Africa became a better-known and understood destination brand, stakeholders underscored that there were no plans to leverage and sustain the branding legacy after the World Cup. Lessons from South Africa show that planning for legacy in the post-event period is as critical as it is in the lead-up, and requires a dedicated budget and staff. Moreover, legacy initiatives need to be communicated effectively to the relevant stakeholders and the public in general.
For Qatar, the 2006 Asian Games in Doha was considered to be the turning point in its strategy for hosting major international sport events—similar to what the 1995 Rugby World Cup did for South Africa. The 2006 Asian Games also served as a catalyst for Qatar’s positioning as an international sport destination, and as an increasingly important feature of its reputation and image. Also similar is the fact that the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be the largest mega-event ever hosted in the Middle East.
While Qatar faces different brand challenges—related to the FIFA bribery and corruption scandal regarding the awarding of the World Cup and concerns about worker rights and calls to boycott Qatar 2022—there are still lessons to be learned from the South African case. It has shown that the FIFA World Cup can provide a platform to shift international perceptions and the global positioning of an emerging destination brand. However, for the potential gains from the 2022 World Cup not to be a missed opportunity and to ensure more sustainable outcomes, the post-event period in particular needs to be capitalized upon. Strategic planning for legacy and implementing leveraging activities during all phases of the mega-event is required to ensure positive brand legacies.
Article by Kamilla Swart, an Associate Professor in the Masters of Sport Management and Entertainment, Division of Engineering Management and Decision Sciences in the College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
Kamilla Swart is an Associate Professor in the Masters of Sport Management and Entertainment, Division of Engineering Management and Decision Sciences in the College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University. Her research interests include sport tourism, with a specific focus on mega-events, sustainability and legacy. Swart was instrumental in developing the 2010 FIFA World Cup Research Agenda and is also driving the 2022 FIFA World Cup Research Agenda. She is the co-editor of Legacies and mega events: Facts or fairytales (Routledge, 2018). Her work has centered on contributing to sport tourism knowledge in the developing context, and in the global South in particular. www.linkedin.com/in/kamilla-swart-arries-77368b207.
Read more about the Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project here.