As the Kenyan government continues to crack the whip on illegal gambling activities in the country, concerns have emerged over the use of international football stars to promote gambling.
On the spot is a well-known betting company, 1xbet, which has in the recent past flooded several towns within Nairobi and beyond with adverts bearing the image of England captain Harry Kane.
Alongside Kane is Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama and fellow Spurs team-mates Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld.
Alongside the logo of the company, 1XBET, sits the historic logo of Tottenham Hotspur.
The club first announced a long-term agreement with 1XBET as its Official Betting Partner for Africa in 2018.
The betting firm recently had its license cancelled alongside those of 27 other companies over non-compliance in tax returns.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has in the past regretted that youths are not productive as they spend most of their time “in bed betting”.
Dr Matiang’i also noted that suicide cases have increased across Kenya due to the effects of gambling.
As such, to critics, it seems incongruous to see the England captain featuring in a betting advert.
This can be related to the last week case where the Football Association charged Everton’s Yerry Mina with a breach of regulations for appearing in a betting advert in Colombia as reported by Daily Mail.
The FA has strict rules on players and managers appearing in betting ads.
Interestingly, according to the international media, there is a loophole in the regulations. If the club has a deal with a betting company, they can use the images of players in adverts. So what’s wrong for the players as individuals, is not wrong for the clubs. Mina could have been used by Everton in a gambling ad and that would be fine. It was the fact that he struck his own deal that is wrong.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson sees an anomaly in the regulations.
“Rules about gambling sponsorship deals need to be consistent for clubs and individual players,” he said.
“Given the levels of gambling addiction in the UK and Kenya, it’s time to make rules about gambling adverts and sponsorships much tighter. Fans are bombarded with gambling ads and it’s not right.”
Further, reports indicate that the players themselves have little control over these ads. They sign up to a certain amount of commercial activity when they agree with their club contracts.
The deals usually mean that their image can be used alongside club sponsors, but usually it would have to be with a group of players rather than individually.
This can be related to the 1xbet Kenyan advert, where Kane is appearing alongside his teammates.
Reached for comment, Kane’s spokesman declined to comment extensively on the matter. He only pointed out that it is a club issue.
Tottenham is not the only club that signs up to such deals, most English Premier Leagues clubs have gambling firms as sponsors.
In Kenya, celebrity endorsement of betting services has been linked as betting addiction.
For instance, another Kenyan football star McDonald Mariga is used by betting firm Betin, to promote its services in the country. He does this alongside former Cizent TV presenter Joey Muthengi.
“In Kenya most celebrities are hired to promote gambling. That is what has made it become this big. When you see celebrities associated with gambling you find they are successful people and endorsing this product.
‘And it creates the impression that I should do it. I want to be like Harry Kane. Harry Kane is a 1XBET hero. Harry Kane is very well known and the Premier League is the most-watched football competition. Tottenham being one of the top teams, it also attracts a lot of fans and a lot of attention, ” Nelson Bwire, a recent university graduate and a former betting addict told the Daily Mail.
His love for the Kenyan youth pushed him to launch an informative betting campaign under his recently set up Gaming Awareness Society of Kenya.
In Kenya, the government’s effort to ban outdoor advertising by gambling firms was quashed by the High Court.
The ban, which was to take effect on May 30, was issued by the Betting Control and Licencing board in bid to control gambling addiction, especially by the youth in the country.
According to Justice John Mativo, the ban was tainted with illegality and unreasonableness and procedural impropriety.
Despite, FA’s effort to streamline the betting advert deals, of concern is the controversial link between the African betting firms and the clubs.
Recently, Liverpool and Chelsea announced global partnerships with 1XBET. Everton and Championship side Hull are sponsored by SportPesa, one of the biggest players in Kenyan gambling that had its license cancelled.
Sportpesa continues to appeal to its customers to be patient as it engages the government of the suspension. It has maintained that all its users are not underage.
One of the factors that have encouraged gambling in Kenya is the availability of electronic money services, mostly Mpesa service by giant telco Safaricom.
The betting firms have maintained that only adults can use money services. But this is not entirely true as minors can register their lines with their parents’ Identification Numbers (IDs).
Following the negative concerns on gambling and the link between EPL and African betting firms, Tottenham has revealed that the club’s management recently reached out to 1xbet seeking for assurance over the firm’s betting services in Kenya.
“We have made contact with our partners to express our concerns and seek assurances that they continue to operate within the parameters of their gaming licence locally and that marketing and advertising includes appropriate messaging that reminds people of the age restrictions and encourages people to gamble responsibly.
“Our partners have responded to inform us that they are conducting an investigation to establish the facts and will be attending a meeting with the club’s management, ” a Tottenham spokesperson said.
However, this might not be just enough until practical results are seen and appreciated in the communities affected.