Kenya Harlequin Football Club, one of Kenya’s prolific and oldest rugby sides has protested the withdrawal of sponsorship by betting firm Sportpesa and sent a passionate appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and address grievances highlighted by the betting firm.

In a statement to media earlier today, the Club’s Chairman Mike Lucas decried the manner in which the government had introduced taxes that had led to the sponsorship withdrawal and consequently the risk of the possible stalling of numerous sports development projects in the country.

Harlequins, formed in 1951 by colonialists, is a Kenyan rugby union club that competes in the Kenya Cup, the top level of Kenyan rugby and regularly supplies players to the national sevens and fifteens teams.

Quins as they are popularly known, are one of the main beneficiaries of Sportpesa sponsorship. The club’s press statement is reproduced below in full:

Kenya Harlequin FC statement on the withdrawal of our main sponsor

Kenya Harlequin FC, one of the oldest Rugby Club in Kenya, are dismayed at the withdrawal of sponsorship by Sportpesa after the implementation of the punitive taxes by the Government which takes effect from January 2018. Sportpesa through its sponsorship of Clubs and Federations in Kenya played a great role in uplifting the standards of various sports that they partnered with or sponsored in the past year.

Marginalised sports like Boxing and Rugby received a real boost and this enabled them to go out and showcase their prowess in different parts of the world. These sports received little if any financial support from the Government in the past. Rugby has been the biggest ‘Brand Kenya’ sports product in the past couple of years and we have prided ourselves as being a ‘clean’ sport and recognised worldwide as such.

Clubs like Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Nakuru All Stars and Kenya Harlequin benefitted immensely from sponsorship from Sportpesa. Kenya Harlequin were able to keep a squad of 85 players who were paid decent allowances. This included a squad of Under 20 players who are the bedrock of the future of rugby in Kenya. We also, through sponsorship from Sportpesa, paid for accommodation for several players and even school, college and university fees. All these young men coming from schools and colleges preoccupied with the game, rather than roam the streets, enabling them to earn something small while we prepared them to enter full time employment later on. And Kenya Harlequin FC through its friends, sponsors and ‘Generals’ have managed to place several players in employment or attachments.

The advent of this punitive tax, has now nipped in the bud all the developments and progress made in the past with the future now looking very bleak. Sportpesa also invested in infrastructure projects to help in developing facilities. One such case was at the RFUEA grounds where the construction of extra stands were at an advanced stage. This would have enabled the world famous Safari Sevens to be held at a rugby ‘friendly’ ground and be able to hold around 10-12 thousand spectators. This has all come to nought.

Owing to the currently overstretched government budget, sports should have been left to the private sector to fund. The only way to do this is to create incentives that will attract corporates to part with their money to sponsor sports in Kenya and not punish those who are. The trend in the West is that betting companies tend to be the main sponsors of various sports and rather than punish them with high taxes, they should have been encouraged to part with more money to sponsor clubs and federations.

The sports fund as envisaged by the government is yet to be set up and functional. When it is eventually set up the likelihood is only for federations to be funded and not clubs. What happens to the grassroots where all these players are nurtured?

We believe the His Excellency the President, who is an ardent lover of sports in Kenya and in particular Rugby which he played during his school days, will find it in his heart to review the government’s position. For the good and growth of sports, we humbly request His Excellency the President of Kenya, to revise and relook this tax regime and make the environment friendly for prospective sponsors of sports in Kenya. This is in keeping with the government’s own manifesto of developing sports.

Kenya Harlequin RFC