South Africa's official tourism board says it intends to continue to pursue a proposed sponsorship deal with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, despite public uproar after details were leaked in the media this week.
Themba Khumalo, the acting CEO of South African Tourism (SAT), said while there was no signed contract as yet, the board had conditionally approved the proposed three-year deal worth 900m South African rand (£42.5m/$52.5m).
Khumalo revealed that despite details of the deal - proposed to start at the beginning of the 2023-24 Premier League season - being leaked, confidentiality agreements mean he is unable to confirm the finer points.
"Somebody maliciously leaked confidential documentation into the press - prematurely - while the discussion was still being had," Khumalo said.
The board of SAT, which sits under the auspices of the South African government, conditionally approved the deal after travelling to London in January, Khumalo explained.
He added that the various government stakeholders had yet to be contacted, as had been intended by now, given that SAT is having to deal with the fallout of the leak.
"We are part of a broader tourism family, and we cannot simply proceed regardless of what our stakeholders are saying.
"We've got to be sensitive to what our partners are saying and make sure that everybody is on board, then we can move together holistically. So that is where the deal is right now."
'Misguided vanity project'
The proposed deal with a team lying fifth in the Premier League has come under criticism from different quarters in South Africa, which is undergoing economic challenges at present.
Some believe the money intended to fund the proposed sponsorship could be better utilised in a country battling daily power blackouts, water shortages and significant unemployment.
Several national sports federations have also added their voice to the criticism, saying the money could help fund financially-challenged national bodies and local athletes.
The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu), the country's biggest trade union federation, labelled the proposed deal as an insult to struggling workers and taxpayers.
"This is a misguided vanity project that will contribute nothing to fix the ailing tourism industry that has not only suffered from Covid-19 but is also sabotaged by electricity cuts and high crime levels," Cosatu said in a statement.
Addressing concerns from critics, Khumalo pointed out that such issues had to be addressed by the respective governmental departments under whose jurisdiction it falls.
"The money that's invested in tourism is not the same money that's required for energy or for fixing potholes," he said in Johannesburg. "There are other departments that are dedicated and are given that mandate by legislation.
"Our legislated mandate is about persuading international people to travel to the country and spend money in our economy. Whether it is through this initiative or any other, that is what we will continue to do until told otherwise."
Khumalo said the 900m rand ($52.5m) investment would result in a projected return of 88 billion rand ($5.1 billion) in foreign spending from tourist arrivals from the United Kingdom and the United States, the country's two biggest tourism markets.
"It's a solid business case that has a direct impact into foreign investment that comes into the country."
The proposed deal that was leaked implied that SAT would have kit branding, match-day advertising, interview backdrop branding, stadium hospitality and partnership announcements in addition to training camps in South Africa.
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