China deepens ties with Latin America though football

18 June 2018

As eight Latin American teams push ahead in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Sino-Latin consultancy Novam Portam was looking towards the future; at a country which did not qualify. The boutique consultancy, which specialises in connecting Latin America with the world, have set their sights on football in China.  

As a part of China’s vision for 2050, the country has outlined its desire to win the football world cup by 2050. Football is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s favourite sport and China is spending up big on making the country the best team in Asia by 2030. In 2016 alone, Chinese clubs spent just over $450 million on international players, the majority of which were Latin Americans. 

China’s ambition to develop the sport is as ambitious as it is impressive seeing that the country barely had any football pitches ten years ago. However, the sport has grown exponentially as a result of meticulous state planning, with an interest in using football as a way to connect with the global community.  

Drawing on Europeans and Latin Americans to design the league, coach children’s leagues and develop a homegrown football movement, the Central Government has been “investing in football academies and importing youth coaches from Uruguay and beyond.” Building grassroots football has become a top priority for the Chinese. 

This is according to the boutique New York-based consultancy firm Novam Portam in an article titled ‘World Cup: China is using football to score big in Latin America’. The consultancy believes that the Chinese are using football as one of many ways to shift its position in global affairs and build a connection with Latin America.

“China is making a big bet that rebalancing the football globe will pay off for them diplomatically and commercially,” states the report. “If it pays off, it may be the cultural connection that has long eluded the China-LatAm relationship.”  

China deepens ties with Latin America though football

For Latin Americans, this relationship is beginning to develop with Latin leaders looking towards China rather than an increasingly insular United States. Since the late 2000s, Sino-investment in Latin America and the Caribbean sat at under $50 billion in foreign direct investment. Jump forwardten years and that figure had reached just under $250 billion, with trade between the two growing in double digits in 2017.

The majority of this has been focused on infrastructure, energy and agriculture, however, interest in broadening cultural ties between the two regions has been centered through sport. “In anticipation of high-level visits, both sides are under pressure to put together a batch of impressive announcements,” said Margaret Myers, the Program Director of Latin America and the World at The Inter-American Dialogue. 

“Sometimes this sports-type diplomacy, or sports-related cooperation, is thrown in there. And in some situations, it can be the dressing to more controversial announcements.” China has been invoking this sentiment throughout the past – with gifts of football stadiums in Latin America and the Caribbean – to create a shift in political public opinion towards increased trade.

“Under the auspices of this broader 'people-to-people connectivity'–and I do think they believe very strongly in this–there is an effort to really improve China’s diplomatic standing and image globally,” said Myers. “And football is a very neutral and generally positive way to engage a large segment of the population in Latin America, or Africa, you name it. Soccer is popular globally.”

For Novam Portam, this football-diplomacy helps open up Latin America to trade with China and will build ties between the two regions. “One day soon, Latin Americans could be supporting Team China in its bid for the 2034 World Cup,” the report concludes. 

The consulting firm works to build business relationships between the two regions. With a heavy focus on strategy advice, analysis and business development, the firm is one of fastest growing consultancies connecting Latin America with the world. Growing interest in Latin American resources and accelerated cultural ties between the region and China will put the firm in a strong position to continue its expansion ambitions.

Related: Latin Americans are racing to Russia in record numbers for 2018 FIFA World Cup.


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Digitization could add $240 billion to Mexico’s GDP by 2025

22 January 2019

New in-depth analysis by McKinsey & Company ranks Mexico 55th in digital maturity out of 151 countries. When compared to countries with similar economic output, Mexico is in good shape, but the country has “yet to achieve the kind of world-class digital transformation that fuels productivity and economic growth.”

Countries that have adequately transformed, such as Estonia and Malaysia, have incomes close to Mexico, but punch “above their weight” when it comes to digital maturity. Mexico is about halfway there. Taking steps to improve its global digital position, however, could increase the country’s GDP by  7-15% (approximately $155-240 billion) by 2025. Such an increase would be powered by increased productivity and employment in existing industries, new digital businesses, a broadened expanded information-and-communication-technology (ICT) sector, as well as the successful labor force transition into the digital world.

Mexico is the second-largest economy in Latin America, meaning it is in the unique position to set the regional standard for a “digitally enabled” government.

For their analysis, McKinsey & Company researchers Alberto Chaia, Gonzalo Garcia-Muñoz, Philipp Haugwitz, Max Cesar, and Andre de Oliveira Vaz defined digital maturity using four categories: government, foundations, economy, and society. The study also laid out steps that Mexico could take to improve its digital maturity. Of these four factors, Mexico has the most work to do in digital economy and digital foundations, categories in which its scores are just below average – and which are highly correlated.

Digital maturity of Mexico according to McKiney

The bad news first

Digital foundations essentially encompass the ability of citizens to participate in a digital society. This means internet access, mobile networks, and so forth. “In 2016, Mexico had just 13 fixed-line broadband subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants” the analysis found. “The rate of subscription to mobile broadband is higher, at 61%, but this still leaves a sizeable portion of the population unconnected and thus spending additional time and money getting to physical centers to access government services.” This lack of access causes Mexico to rank 93rd overall in the digital foundations category. 

Mexico’s digital economy, in turn, is hindered by its “shaky” digital foundations. It sits in 92nd place of all countries surveyed. There is a lack of access to high-speed internet, as stated, as well as an unreliable postal service and a lack of bank accounts among the population, with just 40% of citizens aged over 15 having an account. These factors decrease the country’s potential to develop an e-commerce industry that is widely and conveniently used. Exports of ICT goods, as well, account for an astonishing less than 1% of all exported goods and services.

And now for the good news

Mexico’s digital government, which ranks 39th overall, has made great strides in recent years. The creation of, for example, provides "a one-stop portal that consolidates 34,000 databases from 250 government institutions and 5,400 public services. The platform is described as the “centerpiece” of Mexico’s digitization efforts, allowing citizens easy access to important legal documents such as birth certificates, as well as automating internal processes, making workplaces tasks run more smoothly for government employees.

Despite this – and the appointment of a national digital strategy coordinator who sits on the president’s staff - Mexico “receives low scores from its citizens on their overall satisfaction with the convenience and accessibility of government services.” Citizen experience was the worst-rated of those group countries surveyed (Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States). There was also a largest perception gap between the private and public sector.

How digital can boost Mexico’s GDP

A digital society, according to the report, “can improve the quality of life for citizens by fostering greater civic participation, providing access to information, and offering new tools for health and education.” As previously shown, Mexico is pushing such platforms, including several subsections of, on which citizens can participate in public polls and discussions, and present potential digital solutions to serious societal problems such as earthquake detection systems.

Mexico is well on its way to achieving a “good” or “very good” digital maturity rating (right now, the country is “acceptable”). According to McKinsey, “There are three basic initiatives Mexican government leaders could consider putting on top of their priority lists [to speed the transition into the upper echelons of digitization].”

First, the Mexican government must define a digital vision and strategy. Second, it must link that vision to policymaking. Entwining the two ensures that digitization acts as a “lever” to a policy’s success. “To establish a clear link between its digital vision and public value, Mexico’s incoming administration may want to consider revisiting the country’s "National Digital Strategy" for 2013 and aligning it with Mexico’s current and future needs, as well as with the new government’s priorities,” the report states. A “test and learn” attitude toward linking digital vision and policy will also be necessary, as the only way to avoid repeated mistakes is by closely evaluating those that have been made, then planning accordingly. Adopting this attitude, according to the report, will necessitate more flexible budgetary strategies.   

The third suggested initiative is all about power to the people. Successful digital transformations are those that are centered around the citizens, rather than the institutions that serve and govern them. This means service delivery is key, and centralization of digitalization efforts – initially, perhaps, in the form of a council that would oversee governmental transformation – could greatly aid government agencies in getting the people what they desire. As Mexico transforms, so would the ways in which ideas are generated and put into action. For instance, the United States has the US Digital Service, which works with the White House, and Singapore relies greatly on the Government Technology Agency, which reports to the country’s president and implements digital strategies.

Digital maturity benchmark

Filling in the cracks

Because Mexico ranks on the low end of the “digital foundations” category, it is obvious that the other four categories, which by nature fall under the “foundations” umbrella, are potentially negatively affected. As such, McKinsey offers five steps that could be taken to strengthen the country’s digital infrastructure. 

Private companies, for one, could be offered incentives to provide broadband internet to “marginalized” communities, such as those in Oaxaca and Chiapas. The study points to India as an example, where the government-created National Optical Fibre Network (BharatNet) “successfully brought broadband services to approximately 115,000 villages, aiming to deliver broadband connectivity to 250,000 villages overall.” 

Talent is also an issue. “In recent years, Mexico has made significant strides to boost the number of college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” the report states. In 2016, 25% of university graduates with a STEM degree. 

But degrees aren’t so much the problem as education in general. “Only 17% of Mexicans graduate from college, making the talent pool small.” Programs that keep primary and secondary school teachers in the loop are a must – as are “reskilling” programs meant to train a percentage of the workforce that is soon to be displaced by technology such as automation. 

Rounding out the five suggestions are a system that easily and simply explains new regulations regarding technology - an invaluable resource for startups; the development of cybersecurity units required to monitor the security of such a large, overarching transformation; and a streamlined, interoperable model for data sharing across multiple government agencies. 

It’s an investment

The challenges and obstacles in Mexico’s path to digital transformation are not inconsiderable, but are neither without long-term reward. “Going digital will require an investment of financial resources, extensive coordination among the multiple stakeholders and levels of government, and new regulations governing the growing e-commerce and fintech sectors. It most likely would entail participation incentives for the private sector, since governments should not attempt to 'go it alone.' In the end, both sectors of society stand to reap the value digitization will sow.” 

Related: Mexico leads Latin America in robotization, followed by Brazil and Argentina.