by | Azmil Mohd Amin
It has been decades since the last Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in 1998 being the prime example of how a major sports event can catalyse the development of a city’s sports infrastructure, and transform it into a ‘Sports City’. Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, had to upgrade its facilities to host the games, which brought together athletes from 70 countries. The government invested heavily in constructing new sports facilities, such as the National Sports Complex, which included a 50,000-seat stadium, an aquatic centre and an indoor arena. These facilities were designed to meet international standards and cater to a variety of sports, such as athletics, swimming, badminton and basketball. Additionally, the city of Kuala Lumpur upgraded its transportation infrastructure, including new highways, rail lines and airports, to make it easier for athletes and visitors to get around.
According to Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA), sports is an important income generator in the tourism industry, contributing approximately RM5 billion annually. It is also supported by a broad global audience, as sporting events usually attract domestic and international participants. Revenue streams come from ticket/gate sales, accommodations, food and beverages, to sponsorships, media rights, merchandising and garment production, amongst others.
By creating environments that make it easy and enjoyable for society to engage in physical activity, and designing spaces that encourage active living, sports cities can help to improve and promote health and well-being, especially in an ageing nation.
But how can an ecosystem be developed to support a sports city? We explore the key characteristics of a sports city through the lenses of MIGHT’s F.I.R.S.T.® or Funding, Infrastructure and institution, Regulatory and policies, Skills and talents and Technology for a holistic and sustainable approach on the viability of such initiative.
Pending for sustainability
Why does this matter?
Funding is necessary to construct and maintain facilities such as community centres, parks and walking trails that are accessible and appealing to the community. Without funding, these facilities may not be built, or they may fall into disrepair. Funding can be used to develop and implement programmes and services that cater specifically to the needs of society, such as fitness classes, health education workshops and social events. These programmes and services can help society maintain their physical and mental health and stay connected to communities.
To ensure the longevity of these facilities and programmes, sustainable funding sources such as grants, partnerships sponsorships and user fees, must be secured. This way, they can continue to support the well-being of society, including older adults, for an extended period.
Infrastructure to accelerate development
Why does this matter?
The sports industry’s continuous expansion has generated noteworthy investor attention, leading to greater professionalisation and commercialisation in the field. Those who own sports rights are looking to leverage this influx of investment to support ambitious growth objectives, while investors are aiming to establish portfolios that encompass sports, technology and entertainment.
Fast and reliable internet connectivity is increasingly important to sports fans, and digital infrastructure plays a critical role in meeting this demand. At the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Ooredoo became the first Middle Eastern and African telecom operator to provide 5G internet access in Doha, highlighting the importance of technological infrastructure for sporting events. Governments often spend significant amounts of money on mega events such as the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016, which cost USD13.2 billion and accounted for 15% of the city’s Gross Domestic Product that year. To justify the high cost, cities must create a legacy of high-calibre global events to achieve a return on investment and become major sports hubs. Non-technological infrastructure is equally important. For instance, sports cities need to identify and incorporate parks and green spaces that provide safe, accessible areas for people to engage in physical activity such as walking, running or cycling. Likewise, active transportation, must also be encouraged and made safe – making walking and cycling, the preferred choice to reach a destination, instead of relying on cars.
Regulatory for better governance
Why does this matter?
Regulatory and policies are fundamental to create an enabling environment for the establishment of the trust and to allow authorities, investors, developers and operators to be key stakeholders in this approach for public-private-partnerships.
Designing a sports city is influenced by regulatory aspects such as zoning regulations, building codes and land use policies. These regulations are essential for ensuring that the design of a sports city is safe, efficient and sustainable. In addition, regulations can help ensure that sports city development is consistent with broader urban development plans, such as those aimed at promoting green spaces, walkability and active transportation.
The key elements of sports city design include the integration of sports facilities, green spaces and pedestrian-friendly streets. These elements are critical for promoting physical activity, social interaction and healthy living. Green spaces, such as parks, trails and open areas, provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Pedestrian-friendly streets, such as wide sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, facilitate active transportation and community connectivity.
The development of a sports city should be guided by the national structure plan, which in a long-term provides a framework for land use and development. The structure proposal is implemented through local development plans, which provide more detailed guidance on land use and development at the local level.
Agility of skills and talents to support growth
Why does this matter?
Access to talent and human capital is important for the development of successful sports teams, events and programmes. Cities that have access to talented athletes, coaches and sports scientists are more likely to have successful sports initiatives. Sports cities require a skilled workforce that can manage and maintain the various sports facilities, organise events and provide guidance and support to athletes and sports enthusiasts. These talents can fill various roles in sports city, such as coaches, fitness trainers, sports analysts and sports event managers. They can also work in sports science research and development, designing and implementing training programmes, nutrition plans and injury prevention and rehabilitation programmes. According to Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), as of 2019, there were 18 public and 23 private institutions in areas of sports sciences.
Harnessing the potential of smart technology to accelerate development
Why does this matter?
Smart city initiatives can play a crucial role in accelerating the development of a sports city. The integration of technology and data in urban planning can help to optimise the use of existing infrastructure and resources, while also improving the quality of life for the residents. For example, the use of sensors and data analytics can be used to monitor the usage of sports facilities and identify areas that require maintenance or improvements. Smart transportation systems can also promote active transportation, such as cycling and walking, by providing safe and convenient routes for residents. Additionally, the use of digital platforms can improve the accessibility and convenience of sports-related services, such as online booking of sports facilities and virtual fitness classes. By leveraging smart city initiatives, the development of a sports city can be more sustainable, efficient and beneficial for residents.
Cities are also using technology to improve the sustainability of sports city environments. Smart energy systems that utilise renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are being implemented to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability. Additionally, cities are using technology to monitor and manage water usage, waste management and air quality, creating healthier environments for their people.
Some cities have successfully implemented technology-driven initiatives to support their initiatives. For example, Amsterdam has implemented a smart bike-sharing system that uses an app to track bike availability and provide route suggestions. Barcelona has created a smart parking system that helps reduce traffic congestion by providing real-time parking availability data.
In conclusion, cities’ pursuit of sporting excellence will be complemented by additional factors like sustainability and inclusivity. Fans of sports and society at large, are seeking authenticity and more transparency and are no longer willing to simply be passive onlookers. Community engagement is essential for the success of sports initiatives, as it helps to build support for sports programmes and encourages participation in sports activities. A strong sports culture is necessary to promote and sustain sports initiatives. Additionally, as demographic shifts towards an ageing nation, planning of facilities also need to take consideration programmes and services for older adults, such as talents trained in areas like elderly fitness, nutrition and gerontology.