Aston Villa’s supposed new Principal Partner has been ‘leaked’ – and the company is less than favourable to many.

Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy


The evening has unearthed some fresh Aston Villa news in the form of a new Principal Partner – Kenyan betting company SportPesa.

The firms Chief Executive looks to have leaked a package sent to him directly from the club on his social media, before the video flicks to a booklet which states ‘Official Principal Partner of Aston Villa Football Club’. The video also shows what could be next season’s Kappa shirt – but only the part of it which shows the ‘SportPesa’ logo.

SportPesa has been involved in football for a number of years, sponsoring both Hull City and Everton (as well as other deals with Arsenal and Southampton) – with the Toffees recently announcing they will be cutting their deal short with the gambling outfit.

The deal makes commercial sense for Aston Villa, who with a growing market in Africa following the signings of Mbwana Samatta, Marvelous Nakamba and Trézéguet – alongside already having Egyptian national team captain Ahmed Elmohamady – and will allow them to further tap into a growing market and appeal to fans on the African continent. The size of the club, paired with the potential size of the market will likely mean that SportPesa have paid a large sum to adorn player’s chests from next season.

This will now be Aston Villa’s fourth betting-based sponsor in a row, featuring Unibet, 32Red, W88 in recent years, and raises questions regarding the club’s values. Betting companies are rife in the top two tiers of English football, and the explosion in gambling sponsorship in the league – not just in the Midlands – has lead to an influx of issues around the United Kingdom that can often lead to ‘dire consequences’ for those suffering.

The Athletic revealed last week that government advisor Dominic Cummings is leading a charge to ban gambling logos on football shirts – with Kenyan officials, amongst others, visiting the Houses of Parliament to express concerns on gambling addiction.

SportsPesa originally ran from Kenya, moving operations to Tanzania following an ongoing dispute with the Kenyan government. Founded by politically connected Bulgarian businessmen – the company has been embroiled in controversy for some time surrounding its exploitation of a rife ‘gambling craze’ in Kenya that arrived alongside mass mobile phone technology in around 2014.

The company have since halted operations in Kenya, citing ‘hostile regulations’, and have not had their license renewed by the Kenyan government due to a reported 14,900,000,000 Kenyan shilling unpaid tax bill.

Statistics cite that ‘half a million’ Kenyan youngsters have been blacklisted by banks for borrowing money that they cannot repay – and with a regulatory framework dating back to 1966, companies like SportsPesa and other betting companies that sponsor Premier League clubs have been aggressively targeting these areas. Reports in 2019 state that companies in Kenya – with SportPesa not actively named – luring children as young as 14 into gambling freely using appealing techniques that are banned in the United Kingdom. This has been referred to as a ‘plague’ which is ‘destroying lives’.

A small sample size was taken at the Kenyatta University, which revealed that:

  • 50% of students said they needed to gamble with more and more money.
  • 30% revealed they were preoccupied with betting.
  • 3% told the study that they had committed a crime to finance gambling.

According to The Guardian, SportPesa uses a ‘white label’ system in the United Kingdom – registered in tax haven Isle of Man – meaning that the company do not require a Gambling Commission license and that the company does not appear to pay UK corporation tax or contribute to UK gambling welfare programmes.

The paper continues, stating ‘In June 2017 Kenyatta reversed a pledge for a 35% tax on gambling to fund sport, arts and universal healthcare after relentless lobbying by SportPesa and other gambling companies. Instead, after his November 2017 re-election, the president introduced a 15% rate, while imposing a 20% tax on individual gamblers’ winnings, explaining this was “in order to enhance equity and fairness”.’

More recent scenes have shown the likes of the aforementioned Everton, the Republic of Ireland national team and F1’s Racing Point all end title or principal partnerships with the company.

Whilst there has been no official announcement from Aston Villa or SportPesa, there are questions raised as to the necessity behind the deal. It looks like money really does talk.

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