One Potential Step for Tourism and a Billion Rand Leap for Tottenham

Feb 6, 2023 | Press Releases

South Africa’s official and youth unemployment rates are among the world’s highest. Yet, the country’s marketing agency is allegedly contemplating a R1 billion sponsorship deal with elite English Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur. How is this possible when our country’s economy is still reeling from the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, when so many South Africans still struggle to put food on their table, and when load-shedding has been predicted as part of our foreseeable future, with water shedding following closely behind?

Reading the Daily Maverick’s article about this proposal, whilst being flooded with outrage and anger, I could not even imagine how this could have been drafted. Could it be that Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is truly that far out of touch with reality? We live in a country where schools in lower-income areas do not even have the infrastructure to afford their learners the opportunity to participate in sports, but we are contemplating the sponsorship of a Premier League Club that has players with salaries that could easily sponsor thousands of children without it affecting their lifestyle.

As justification for this proposal, South Africa Tourism states that with global travel opening up again they need a series of big strategic and specific actions to re-assert their position. They have cited countries like Abu Dhabi, Malta, and Rwanda, who have respectively sponsored Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal. SA Tourism eagerly notes that they would be following in the footsteps of these destination management organisations, which promote locations as travel destinations by signing a sponsorship deal with a Premier League soccer team.

A venture like this might – and that is a very optimistic might – prove fruitful once we have freed ourselves from the shackles of ESKOM’s debt, significantly decreased our unemployment rate and holistically addressed our socio-economic inequalities. However, at this very moment, the opportunity cost of this very large sponsorship is definitely not worth it. To tie up 36% of the annual tourism budget on an international venture that may or may not be successful, means that the South African hospitality industry will once again have to get by with less funds than what they need, after the crippling blow they have been dealt by the pandemic.

On the topic of the South African hospitality industry, this sponsorship clearly highlights that Minister Sisulu did not consider the effect of load-shedding and water shedding on the industry. Will all of the potential tourists that decide to come to South Africa because they saw the “visit South Africa” banner flashing around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, enjoy the experience of a phased electricity and water supply or sewerage contaminated beaches? It is astonishing to see how government departments are still operating in their respective silos. A few days ago, we saw the ANC-led government call for a declaration of a state of disaster over the Eskom crisis, yet the same government is considering gifting an elite English soccer club that has a 24/7 supply of electricity and water, with R910 997 814.75. Surely this money could have contributed to helping Eskom? This seems like a very logical first step.

Nine months after the April 2022 floods in KwaZulu-Natal, there are parts of the province where the ruling party is yet to address the damage, and this has had a lasting effect on the province’s tourism. According to statistics released by the City of eThekwini, 702 735 tourists were accommodated during this past festive season, which is a decline of more than 200 000 tourists when compared to the year 2019, when the city accommodated an estimated 900 000 tourists. Perhaps the dilapidated state of roads and bridges, combined with sewage contaminating river bodies and oceans were not as appealing to tourists as the ANC-led municipality would have hoped.

Our country is days away from hearing President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, and we cannot help but wonder how he is going to inform taxpayers that they might be sponsoring Tottenham Hotspur. However, it is fair to assume that he will highlight the potential influx of international tourists, without addressing the opportunity cost of this very generous sponsorship.

How many South Africans could benefit if, instead of R910 997 814.75 going towards Tottenham Hotspur, the money went to Eskom? Government needs to think carefully about the answer, because more than 60 million South Africans are being left in the dark, daily.

Hon. KP Sithole is the IFP’s Member on Tourism in the National Assembly

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