SportPesa CEO Karauri, FKF boss Mwendwa war of words sparks social media uproar

CEO SportPesa Ronald Karauri. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Social media has been set abuzz following war of words between Football Kenya Federation boss Nick Mwendwa and SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri.

On Sunday, July 19, Karauri blasted FKF for entering into an agreement with Nigerian betting firm BetKing, which will see the federation receive Sh1.2 billion in a period of five years.

The money will be directed to the Kenya Premier League (KPL) and the and the Women Premier League.  Consequently, the league will now be known as BetKing Premier League, after a statement made on Twitter by Mwendwa on Wednesday, July 15.

Mwendwa also stated each club will receive Sh8 million yearly for the next five years once the league resumes in the new season.

Karauri, on Twitter, posted a story on BetKing shunning the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) to sponsor the KPL, calling out FKF for choosing BetKing over local betting firms Odibets and Betika.

FKF President Nick Mwendwa at Goal Project unveiling Sh1.2 billion sponsorship deal with BetKing towards sponsoring the Kenyan Premier League and the Women League. July 16, 2020. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

“FKF even if it’s looking for votes, shouldn’t you have considered Betika or Odibets or any of the other 100 licensed Kenyan companies?” asked Karauri on Twitter.

In response, the FKF boss dismissed Karauri’s comment, saying Kenyan football supported Sportpesa even when they went to sponsor other teams abroad.

“Not a fair comment Captain! Coming from you and knowing that Football supported you even when you went outside and sponsored others for more than Kenya,” said Mwendwa.

The spat sparked mixed reactions from football and betting enthusiasts, who seemed to agree with both parties.

Kenyans, more so betting enthusiasts, you could say were left clutching at straws following the wave of closure of betting sites that failed to comply with taxation and licensing rules.

SportPesa, having been the biggest betting firm in terms of popularity, shut down all its operations in the county in September last year, citing ‘hostile regulations’.

"Sportpesa is disappointed with the decision by the Kenyan legislature to impose a 20% excise tax on all betting stakes. The tax is based on a fundamental misunderstanding by the Rotich led treasury of how revenue generation works in the bookmaker industry. "Until such time that adequate taxation and non-hostile regulatory environment is returned, the SportPesa brand will halt operations in Kenya," said the firm in a statement.

The firm was optimistic of resuming operations when once the country put in place "adequate taxation and non-hostile regulatory environment."

However, this never happened.

Everton break-up

SportPesa, woes didn’t stop there.

Everton on Sunday, February 16 announced they would end their current partnership with SportPesa at the end of the season.

A statement by the club revealed the agreement was reached following a comprehensive review of its commercial strategies in line with its visions and future growth plans.

"This has been a difficult decision but one that allows us to best deliver on our commercial plan and to grasp the new opportunities now open to us. The Club would like to thank SportPesa for all of the work that has been done together. Our partnership has seen our first team visit Africa on two occasions, as well as former players and Club staff take part in numerous activations in the region. This has allowed us to grow our own footprint in Africa and further strengthen our special relationship with the continent,” Everton said in a statement.

So when do we expect SportPesa back?

One Alexander Waweru on Twitter asked the SportPesa CEO when they would resume operations in the county. Here’s what Karauri had to say:

“I have so many people asking this question. We did not get our license renewed in 2019. We submitted our application to BCLB some months ago and we are still waiting for feedback. If we do get our license renewed we shall let everyone know,” Karauri replied.

Kenyans react to SportPesa CEO Karauri’s exchange with city lawyer on social media

Kenyans took to social media to express their feelings following an exchange between city lawyer Donald Kipkorir and the SportPesa CEO.

The two got into an exchange after the lawyer took to Twitter to speak on SportPesa’s struggles – contracts getting terminated.  

After the news, renowned city lawyer Donald Kipkorir took to Twitter to give his two cents, only for SportPesa’s CEO Ronald Karauri to respond.

“Ireland then now England is terminating all contracts with SportPesa. These are highly developed Countries who have decided to do away with gambling in Sports ... Kenya, a poor & miserable country is excited with gambling & Prime Time News is even sponsored by Betting Companies, “posted Kipkorir.

The lawyer, seemed to laud Everton’s move to end dealings with SportPesa, saying it’s only in Kenya that people are excited by gambling.

Karauri responded, telling the lawyer Kenyans love taking down their own.

“This is so far from the truth. The biggest betting company in the world - Bet365 resides in England. Kenyans love bringing down their own, and now the same Bet 365 is probably the most popular betting site in Kenya, more revenue for them and more tax revenue for the UK,” Karauri replied.

The exchange did not stop there. Kipkorir went on to explain to Karauri how English associations terminated contracts with betting firms.

“English FA & Irish Football Association terminated their contracts with betting companies & football clubs & tennis associations followed suit. We have moral obligation to discourage betting & gambling companies in poor countries. We should promote entrepreneurship not gambling.

Kenyans could not hold back and also let the two know what they thought. Here are samples of reactions captured by GameYetu:

SportPesa - Everton partnership

SportPesa has been Everton's main partner since 2017. The Toffees will appoint a new main partner ahead of the start of the 2020/21 season.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) on February 4 also terminated its two-year sponsorship with SportPesa.

FAI came under heavy criticism from anti-gambling campaigners who felt the sports body was improperly promoting betting.

In March 2019 the FAI announced its deal with SportPesa stating that the gambling firm would partner with it on a programme of corporate social responsibility.

SportPesa, through its spokesman, also issued a statement saying that the partnership had been dissolved by mutual agreement, adding that they respect the FAI's decision to change priorities and re-evaluate sponsorship partnerships.

For SportPesa, the end of the partnerships is another blow, following Kenyan Government refusal to renew its betting license last year due to concerns over the rapid rise of gambling addiction and tax compliance issues.

SportPesa halted operations in Kenya and expressed disappointment with the 20 per cent excise tax on all betting stakes.

The company stated that it would only resume operations once a non-hostile regulatory environment is restored.

Founded in 2014 in Nairobi, SportPesa has operations in Tanzania, South Africa, Italy, Ireland and the UK.

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