Research shows that investment into sport in developing countries is much less than in developed countries, as sport development is usually not a top priority in the national budget or in the education system of most developing countries.

Studies show that a ‘vicious cycle’ is emerging as a result of the underdevelopment of sport in developing countries, in which lower investment in sport decreases the potential for athletes to build their talent.

It also means that there are fewer prospects for athletes to continue their sport training or pursue professional sport careers in a developing country. In turn, the lack of talent-building opportunities in a developing country leads to less return on the little investment put into local talent, further debilitating local sport development structures and sport career pathways.

Less developed countries are unable to utilise the talent of their strong performers and/or tend to lose them to more powerful nations in global sport. Sport regulated by global processes can thus contribute to the underdevelopment of a developing country’s talent.

The 'Muscle Drain' Phenomenon

‘Muscle drain’ has been deemed comparable to ‘brain drain’ – athletes from developing countries supply the industrialised countries’ markets with talent. For example, in football, the high transfer rates that European players can demand from clubs have created a much cheaper alternative – importing players from developing countries. 

In developing countries, players are either enrolled in official clubs linked to the national football association or they play for non-affiliated sports associations. For non-affiliated players, their only chance of obtaining an international transfer deal is through the informal and often clandestine networks of player agents, forming an underground labour market in football. 

It is possible that the player’s situation does not improve upon arrival in a European country – in the worst case, those players under the age of eighteen and who are unsuccessful in being recruited onto a European team, often find themselves without a work contract or even a return ticket to their home country. 

Football associations do not receive payment for the international transfer of non-affiliated players. The transfer fees for foreign players from developing countries to European clubs are so low that they barely cover the education and training costs of the transferred player in their country of origin.

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