Public outrage in South Africa over possible sponsorship deal with Spurs

A corner flag is flown at Tottenham Hotspur FC Training Centre

The South African tourism board has been exploring the possibility of sponsoring Tottenham Hotspur

South Africa’s official tourism body says it intends to continue pursuing a proposed sponsorship deal with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur despite public outcry after details leaked to the media this week.

Themba Khumalo, the interim chief executive officer of South African Tourism (SAT), said that while no contract has yet been signed, the board has conditionally approved the proposed three-year deal worth R900 million South Africans (£42.5m/$52.5m).

Khumalo has revealed that although details of the deal – proposed to start at the start of the 2023-24 Premier League season – have been leaked, confidentiality agreements mean he is unable to confirm the finer points.

“Someone maliciously leaked confidential documents to the press – prematurely – while the discussion was still ongoing,” Khumalo said.

The SAT board, which sits under the auspices of the South African government, approved the deal with conditions after visiting London in January, Khumalo said.

He added that various government stakeholders have yet to be contacted, as had been expected up to now, as SAT has to deal with the fallout from the leak.

“We are part of a larger tourist family and cannot simply proceed regardless of what our stakeholders say.

“We need to be sensitive to what our partners are saying and make sure everyone is in agreement, so we can move together holistically. So that’s where the agreement is right now.”

“Misguided Vanity Project”

The proposed deal with a team sitting fifth in the Premier League has been criticized by several sides in South Africa, which is currently facing economic challenges.

Some believe the money intended to fund the sponsorship proposal could be better used in a country that struggles with power blackouts, water shortages and significant unemployment on a daily basis.

Several national sports federations also added their voice to the criticism, saying the money could help fund national bodies and financially challenged local athletes.

The South African Congress of Trade Unions (Cosatu), the country’s largest trade union federation, labeled the proposed deal an insult to struggling workers and taxpayers.

“This is a misguided vanity project that will do nothing to fix the ailing tourism industry which has not only suffered from Covid-19 but is also sabotaged by power outages and high levels of crime,” he said Cosatu in a note.

Protesters protest the recent electricity crisis in Pretoria, South Africa in 2023

Protesters in the South African administrative capital Pretoria protest over power cuts last month

Addressing critics’ concerns, Khumalo stressed that such matters needed to be addressed by the respective government departments under whose jurisdiction it falls.

“Money invested in tourism is not the same money needed for energy or to fix potholes,” he said in Johannesburg. “There are other departments that are dedicated and have that mandate by law.

“Our legislative mandate is about persuading international people to travel to the country and spend money in our economy. Whether through this initiative or any other, this is what we will continue to do until told otherwise.”

Khumalo said the R900 million ($52.5 million) investment would result in an expected return of R88 billion ($5.1 billion) in foreign expenditure from tourist arrivals from the UK and other United States, the two largest tourist markets in the country.

“It’s a solid business case that has a direct impact on foreign investment coming into the country.”

The proposed deal that was leaked implied that SAT would have kit branding, match day advertising, interview background branding, stadium hospitality and partnership announcements in addition to training camps in South Africa.

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