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Tottenham to announce South Africa as new shirt sleeve sponsors beginning next season

It’s a significant bump up from the current sleeve sponsorship with Cinch, but the deal is still controversial.

Marine v Tottenham Hotspur - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur is set to announce the nation of South Africa as its new shirt sleeve sponsor beginning in the 2023-24 season.

Details of South African investment in the club were first reported by South African news outlet The Daily Maverick yesterday, though it was not clear from the reporting what the investment would be used for. The Times of London (£) has since corroborated the investment and clarified that the deal, worth approximately 911m South African Rand (£42m) over three years, would see South Africa replace current sleeve sponsor Cinch starting next season and lasting through the end of the 2027 Premier League campaign.

The proposed deal, which is set to be completed sometime this week, represents a significant increase over Spurs’ £10m/year deal with Cinch, but it is also highly controversial in South Africa, which is experiencing power cuts that have significantly damaged the South African economy and increased poverty over the past few years. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is apparently considering declaring a state of emergency, which makes investment into a sports team look, to say the least, somewhat odd in context. According to The Times, the proposal is deeply unpopular in the home nation, but the South African government sees it as an opportunity to boost tourism at a time when the country is more and more reliant on foreign visitors, especially as the country continues to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What the PowerPoint presentations reveal is that the South African government, through its marketing arm SA Tourism, is seriously considering a proposal to spend close to R1-billion to sponsor one of the world’s most elite soccer teams.

Sources close to the matter told Daily Maverick that it was on the verge of being finalised, with [SA Tourism Minister Lindewe] Sisulu allegedly eager for the deal to be sealed before the impending Cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa moves her out of the Tourism portfolio, as is expected.

Sisulu did not respond to a direct question as to whether she was indeed personally championing the deal.

The presentation specifies that the total value of the sponsorship deal between SA Tourism and Tottenham Hotspur FC would be £42.5-million over three years — which converts to R910,997,814.75 in South African currency, or just under a billion rand.

– Daily Maverick

The Times also noted that the government of Rwanda has a similar sleeve sponsorship in place with Arsenal, one that was similarly controversial at the time it went into effect. It’s not clear how much Rwanda’s sponsorship with Arsenal has improved its tourism, or by what metric they can measure that change.

As part of the sponsorship deal, South Africa would have prominent placement not only on Spurs’ kit sleeves, but also advertising hoardings and promotional materials. The Times also states that Tottenham also will also hold periodic training camps in South Africa, though no other details were provided.

Shirt sleeve sponsorships are relatively new to the Premier League; Spurs were also late to this particular party, only announcing Cinch as its sleeve sponsor in January of 2021. The sleeve real estate has only gotten more lucrative since then, which has apparently led to the club deciding to end its partnership with Cinch early.

The controversy over South Africa investing a significant amount of money into an English football team when its own people don’t have power for up to 12 hours at a time is significant and should not be ignored. It definitely registers substantially on the Ick Scale of Sovereign Investment in Soccer (ISSIS, something I literally just made up), but in context is much lower than, say, minority investment by the Soverign Wealth Fund of Qatar, or Newcastle being owned by Saudi Arabia as part of a concerted effort to sportswash away a horrific record of human rights abuses.

Put another way, Tottenham Hotspur is a business, and businesses are going to behave like businesses in ways that generally trend against progressive morality. That is to say, this absolutely feels kinda gross, but a lot less gross than becoming a toy for a gulf state.

Tottenham has had a number of South African footballers over the years, most recently Steven Pienaar, who was at Tottenham for a single season in 2011-12, and Bongani Khumalo, who Spurs signed in 2011 from SuperSport United, but who never made a single first team appearance during his four years at the club.

According to the Daily Maverick, President Ramaphosa is set to announce the sponsorship with Tottenham during his State of the Nation address on February 10.