L. Neil Smith's
Number 371, June 11, 2006

"A lot of controversy"

Sports and the Free Society
by Christopher Awuku

Reprinted by The Libertarian Enterprise

As a libertarian, I often discuss my political views with family members, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and other people I interact with on a regular basis. On numerous occasions we would go back and forth on topics including the war on drugs, non-interventionist foreign policies, ending state-run education or ceasing the welfare state. Still, there is one question which even I, a hardened libertarian, admittedly struggle to answer in the course of my conversations. How shall a libertarian society cater for and successfully fund sports? I would acknowledge that it's a worthy question in itself and certainly has given me plenty of food for thought.

Sports are an aspect of life that many people enjoy. A lot of people take pleasure from observing and actively participating in them. Apart from the evident physical benefits, sports are also beneficial for emotional and mental health. Whenever the Olympics come around, we all desire our country to do well and win as many medals as possible. Sports are often central to a country's sense of pride.

I live in the United Kingdom, which is the birthplace of several major world sports, such as soccer, tennis, rugby union & league, cricket, etc. In our country, football (as we call it) is by far the most popular sport. The most prominent, and certainly richest, football league in the UK is the Barclays English Premiership.

There is no reason why the Premiership shouldn't prosper within a libertarian society. Since it remains the highest profile league in the country, there will naturally be a demand for coverage of its games, either on TV, radio or other media. Broadcasting companies such as British Sky Broadcasting presently provide the supply to cater for this demand, by showing Premiership matches on the satellite and cable network. The money that British Sky Broadcasting shall pay for the rights to host Premiership games financially benefits all of the 20 football clubs in the league. This enables them to secure players of the quality of Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and compete with the other top football leagues in the world, such as La Liga in Spain. In this sense, football would adequately be financed in a free society.

A similar rationale applies to other major sports in Britain. Let us take cricket as an example. People would be excited to see England play Australia for the Ashes, hence creating a demand for media coverage of such a Test Series. Broadcasting companies would compete fiercely to secure the broadcasting rights for the Ashes, hence aiding the financing of cricket. In rugby union, the annual Six Nations Championship would draw natural attention, for the same reasons as the Ashes.

Fine, so large sports would remain largely unaffected in a libertarian society. But what about the so-called "minority sports"? Currently, in many first world nations, sports are heavily subsidised by the state. Governments would provide the capital for sports centres, athletic tracks, swimming pools, etc. to be built. Of course, in a libertarian society, government would only be restricted to protecting rights to the person and property. Funding for smaller sports would have to be secured from other sources.

Well, in a libertarian society, there would be no income tax or direct taxation of any kind. Without state-sanctioned theft and force, people would possess more funds that could be used to donate to their favourite causes. These could be a sports centre for their local community, or equipment for a martial arts club, or boats for a rowing club. In general, the enlarged charitable/voluntary sector in a libertarian society would cater for the financing of smaller sports. Local communities could all pitch in to purchase playing fields. Maybe such funding could be a condition of moving to a new neighbourhood. Who really is to say what scenarios would occur if the free market funded minority sports?

The governmental funding of sports can also be described as "welfare for the rich". In the United States, there are some examples of wealthy individuals (some of whom are billionaires) receiving government money to construct stadiums. Qwest Field, the home stadium of the Seattle Seahawks in the USA, was partly financed by taxation. This happened even though the owner of the Seattle Seahawks, Paul Allen, is one of the world's richest men and is a billionaire. Clearly, there was little need for government funding in this instance. Allen did provide 30% of the financing for the stadium, nevertheless the wealthy should have little need for governmental aid. Wembley Stadium's re-construction is being partly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. At the time of writing, the date of opening for Wembley Stadium is unclear even though the stadium was due to be completed in May 2006. This simply demonstrates that government programmes and policies seldom turn out as intended, no matter how benevolent the intentions of politicians are. One can only look at a lack of tangible enhancement in the NHS, for example, as proof of this. Government isn't even needed to construct stadia. During the 2005/06 Premiership season, Manchester United increased the capacity of their Old Trafford ground. Government expenditure wasn't necessary for such construction. In the summer of 2006, Arsenal will move into the new Emirates Stadium, which is totally being financed by the private sector. Private bodies have an incentive to constantly update and upgrade their stadia, since they are catering for the comfort and pleasure of their supporter base.

Sports are a fun aspect of the lives of many people, right across the world. Due to this fact, one shouldn't worry about the financial upkeep of sports. Generally speaking, human beings like to preserve things they cherish or are fond of. I believe this aspect of human nature also relates to sports.

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