Just when I had finally managed to get over that night at the Stade de France, Paris in 2009 Sean O’Connor drew my attention to a recently published paper in the Journal of Sports Economics by Johan Fourie (Stellenbosch University, South Africa) and Maria Santana-Gallego (University of the Balearic Islands, Majorca) entitled “The Invisible Hand of Thierry Henry: How World Cup Qualification Influences Host Country Tourist Arrivals”. While I strongly doubt this is what Adam Smith was referring to when he coined the phrase invisible hand, it’s hard not to argue this is exactly what was witnessed that night in Paris.
The paper goes on to investigate the impact of tourist arrivals both during a tournament, in this case the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and in the years after the event. A gravity model is used to demonstrate the impact of tourist arrivals from different competing countries. A number of counterfactual scenarios are also posed. For example, what if Ireland had qualified?
The authors report “large disparities” with regards to countries that did compete in the Finals and those that did not qualify (I’ll return to this in a moment). They also report that South Africa experienced the greatest levels of tourism growth, after the World Cup, from non-traditional sources such as Honduras, Mexico and Brazil.
But enough of that. To the important stuff. The paper actually claims that the South African economy was better off with France qualifying rather than Ireland! The author’s state:
“France’s participation meant that 36,482 additional French tourists visited South Africa in 2010. In contrast, had Ireland qualified, our model predicts that only 8,234 additional Irish tourists would have arrived. The difference of 28,248 means that the hand of Henry added R333 million in tourism expenditure during 2010 alone. The legacy effect is equally large: in the 3 years following the event, an additional 60,960 French tourists came to South Africa, whereas only 14,784 Irish tourists would have come had Ireland qualified for the finals. This means that tourism expenditure in South Africa during the 3 years following the World Cup was R545 million more because France qualified. In total, the hand of Henry increased tourism expenditure in South Africa by an astonishing R878 million or using the shorthand of 12 additional tourists for each extra job, provided 6,202 more jobs”.
Forget sporting integrity and moral justice, the real winners from Henry’s handball it seems were not the French, but the South Africans.