Kenya’s sports fraternity is now bracing for the worst after the government ordered telcos to shut down the paybill numbers and short codes of 27 betting companies whose licences are yet to be renewed.
In a move aimed at cracking down on the betting craze that has gripped the country, the Betting Control and Licensing Board on Wednesday ordered mobile money companies to disengage with the betting firms until they prove that they are tax-compliant, they have been operating within the law, sufficiently liquid and that they had performed financially well for the past four years.
All betting firms were supposed to have renewed their licences by July 1 but the government wants them to meet the aforementioned threshold before they can be allowed back in business.
With betting in Kenya depending almost entirely on mobile money transactions, the latest directive might see the firms forced out of business or cut costs significantly.
Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Sofapaka and Mathare United are some of the clubs that get huge sponsorship amounts from betting firms, meaning a collapse of the industry will leave them in dire straits.
He added: “Already, our annual sponsorship was slashed from Sh50 million to Sh15 million after the imposition of 35 per cent tax on betting and lottery firms while our yearly wage bill is slightly over Sh60million. How are we supposed to keep the club running.
It is not surprising that players are increasingly complaining over unpaid salaries,” said Sofapaka president Elly Kalekwa, whose club is sponsored by Betika.
Long-serving Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier is also apprehensive. “Over the years, we have undergone different phases as a club. It is not easy running a football club without a sponsor. Financial muscle is key,” said the city lawyer, whose club receives over Sh60million annually from SportPesa.
“At one point, we were playing football with our players hoarding numbers on their jerseys for well-wishers to assist.
While we aspire for even better partnership in the future, we cannot afford to chase away what we already have,” observed Rachier.
It is not just clubs that are worried. Kenya Premier League, the organisers of Kenya’s top flight, also have SportPesa as their main sponsor while Football Kenya Federation has a partnership with Betin who recently supported Harambee Stars during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Pugilist Fatuma Zarika is also sponsored by the giant firm and so are several boxing events popularly known as Nairobi Fight Nights.