When word went out that SportPesa were making a comeback to Kenya, the excitement from sports stakeholders, fans and federations was overwhelming. Light was finally shining at the end of the tunnel but alas what was a fantastic long-awaited return was quickly interrupted by controversy over its comeback.
SportPesa has a proven track record of having invested in the development of the local sports leagues and tournaments in Kenya and Tanzania.
In football, the betting company was the flagship sponsor of the Kenyan Premier League, Kenya’s domestic top-tier club competition, as well as a key sponsor of the Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets, Kenya’s national men’s and women’s football teams respectively. This partnership saw the introduction of linkages with English clubs Arsenal, Everton, Southampton and Hull City, where the clubs’ management, coaches and players took part in various training programmes and engagements. The company single-handedly revived Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards football clubs back to regional glory.
SportPesa also pioneered grassroot football sponsorships through the popular Super 8 League.
In February 2017, a team dubbed the Sportpesa All-Stars, selected from the 16 Kenyan Premier League clubs, became the first-ever team from the country to play in England, where they lost 2–1 to a Hull City.
This partnership was further geared towards exposing Kenyan players to the international stage. SportPesa’s impact in local sports was also felt in boxing, basketball and motorsports.
A controversial tax regime and business environment eventually led to the company suspending its operations in October of 2019.
In addition to the adverse impact on sports from SportPesa’s exit from Kenya, the Covid-19 pandemic delivered another major blow to our sportsmen and women across all disciplines.
The company’s return has continued to suffer setbacks after the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) summoned new Sportpesa owner, Milestone Games Limited, to explain why the firm’s license should not be cancelled or varied. The case is now in court.
There have been back and forth blame games between the regulator and SportPesa.
Sports industry is the poorer amid all this stand-off.
It is even sad that the tiff between SportPesa and the regulator has degenerated to attempts to discredit the firm’s jackpot offering.
This does not help to address the plight of the sport industry, which common sense would dictate that every support to the ailing sector should be pursued and investors encouraged to participate in its revival.
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is the exact opposite. It is shocking that as the Government is struggling with the economy, the pandemic and youth unemployment, genuine efforts to finding solutions for the country are being frustrated.
Victimising and frustrating investors is not one of the solutions.
BCLB, KRA and other government agencies should be looking for ways of increasing revenue to the exchequer by facilitating private enterprise and not the opposite.
Given SportPesa’s track record in supporting local sports, it is time they were accorded every help and encouraged to do business.
This way they will be able to sponsor sports and also contribute to the economy. For now, please give SportPesa a break for the good of sports.
The writer is a sports analyst and former Caf Communication specialist