Montreal, June 25, 2006 • No 181




Christopher Awuku lives in England and works within the voluntary-community non-profit sector.




by Christopher Awuku


          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 go back and forth on topics including the war on drugs, non-interventionist foreign policies, ending state-run education or eliminating the welfare state. Still, there is one question which even I, a hardened libertarian, admittedly struggled to answer over the course of my conversations. How will a libertarian society successfully fund sports? This is a worthy question that has certainly given me plenty of food for thought.


          Sports are an unquestionably enjoyable aspect of life. Many people take pleasure in watching and actively participating in their favourite sports. Apart from the obvious physical benefits, sports also promote both emotional and mental well-being. Whenever the Olympics come around, we all root for our country to do well and win as many medals as possible. Sports are often central to a country's sense of pride.

The Big Leagues

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

          There is no reason why the Premiership wouldn'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 via other media. Broadcasting companies such as British Sky Broadcasting presently supply this demand by showing Premiership matches on their satellite and cable networks. The money that British Sky Broadcasting pays 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 to compete with the other top football leagues around the world, such as La Liga in Spain. In short, football would continue to be adequately financed in a free society.

          A similar rationale applies to other major sports in Britain. Let us take cricket as a second 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 naturally draw a lot of attention for the same reasons as the Ashes would.

The Little Leagues?

          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 provide the capital to build and maintain such things as sports centres, athletic tracks, and swimming pools. In a libertarian society, the government would be restricted to protecting rights to the person and property. Funding for smaller sports would therefore have to be secured from other sources.

“There is no reason why the Barclays English Premiership wouldn'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 via other media.”

          Well, in a libertarian society, there would be no income tax or direct taxation of any kind. Without this state-sanctioned theft and force, people would possess more funds, which they in turn would be free to donate to their favourite causes. These could include 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 help cater to 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?

Welfare for the Rich

          The governmental funding of sports in certain cases amounts to "welfare for the rich." In the United States, there are many examples of wealthy individuals receiving government money to construct stadiums. Qwest Field, the home stadium of the Seattle Seahawks was partly financed by taxation. This occurred in spite of the fact that the owner of the Seattle Seahawks, Paul Allen, is a billionaire, and one of the world's richest men. Clearly, there was no real need for government funding in this instance. Allen did provide 30% of the financing for the stadium, but there is no excuse for the wealthy to have recourse to such governmental aid.

          In the UK, Wembley Stadium's re-construction is being partly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. At the time of this 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 further 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 without any government expenditure. In the summer of 2006, Arsenal will move into the new Emirates Stadium, which is being financed entirely by the private sector. Private bodies have an incentive continually to update and upgrade their stadia, since they are catering to the comfort and pleasure of their supporter base.

          Sports are an enjoyable aspect of many people's lives, right across the world. It would be a shame for them to disappear or diminish in importance, yet precisely because of their popularity, we needn't worry about the financing of sports in the absence of government subsidies. Generally speaking, human beings like to preserve the things they cherish or are fond of. I believe this aspect of human nature can be relied upon when it comes time to finance sports in a free society.