Sunderland recently made a surprising announcement when they unveiled their new £20m-per-season sponsorship deal with a ‘charity’ called ‘Invest In Africa’. However all is not as it first appeared; it transpires that 'Invest in Africa' is actually a ‘not for profit’ organisation with only one employee, accused of being a ‘PR front’ for a contentious oil extraction company.
Football clubs don’t usually have paid deals with charities or 'not for profit organisations'. Blackburn shirts displayed "Prince's Trust" last season but the club donated the space for free. Barcelona’s famous shirts display ‘Qatar Foundation’ but they receive E150m as part of a sweetener deal for helping to arrange the Qatar World cup. Sunderland’s unusual deal raised a number of questions and set some bells ringing: how could a legitimate charity reasonably believe that spending this amount of money on a mid-table premiership team was a good use of their funds? Wouldn’t they be better spent using their money to do some actual good deeds? Who are ‘Invest in Africa’ and do they have the funds to fulfil the contract with Sunderland?
It transpires that ‘Invest In Africa’ was set up by Tallow Oil and Gas CEO Aiden Heavey. Tallow are a financially successful oil exploration/extraction company specialising in West Africa, making $829m profit in the first six months of 2012. ‘Invest in Africa’ has been set up with the published aim of ‘building a partnership of companies operating successfully on the continent to inspire other businesses to follow their lead’. However the only company currently involved in the ‘partnership’ is Tallow. ‘Invest in Africa’ (with only employee, Director Will Pollen) has also been described as a PR ‘front’ for Tallow by oil pressure group ‘Platform’. Platform are critical of Tallow for their non-transparency (alleging that the lucrative but somewhat secretive contracts agreed with West African politicians favour Tallow and a few local individuals rather than most of the West African countries' population). Tallow were also criticised for imposing a 500km fishing exclusion zone around their rigs - with inevitable results for local fishing communities. For more information see the Platform site.
The sponsorship deal could provide revenue for Sunderland of up to £20m a season - a huge leap from the £1m they received under their previous deal with Tombolo. Given the need to move towards Break-Even, there are probably few businesses that would have turned their back on a similar deal with companies like Tallow. But when fans proudly sport the replica shirt with the ‘Invest in Africa’ logo, they shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that they are actually helping to make a difference in Africa.
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