What does sport’s shifting geopolitics mean for brands?

As the East ploughs billions into everything from golf tours to football leagues, we examine how brands in the West are grappling with a global sports industry in flux

For a long time, sport was deemed the cultural property of the West. While many nations laid ancient claims on similar-looking games, most modern sports as we know them were invented in Western countries before being exported around the globe. More recently, however, a huge influx of investment from parts of the East has been upending this longstanding sporting status quo.

India, for instance, has become the commercial powerhouse of cricket thanks to the success of its Indian Premier League and international sides, taking firm control of a game first introduced to the country by its colonisers. Elsewhere, China is continuing its large scale investment in a range of sports; the Japanese Rugby League One is outperforming its European equivalents; Qatar is seeking to replicate its successful bid for the FIFA World Cup with the 2036 Olympics; and Saudi Arabia has spent a staggering £5 billion in sports deals since 2021.

The great re-governing of the global sports industry is explored as part of a new report by Dark Horses and Backslash that looks at the future of sport. “They’re kind of like our playthings, the toys of Western culture and Western values,” says Dark Horses chief strategy officer, Matt Readman. “Maybe it’s an artificial sense of ownership, so sometimes the West gets very protective about sporting values and who should control sport because we feel like we invented it, but the world is changing and there are certain players that are accelerating that by saying, ‘for our strategic objectives we’re going to go after it hard’.”