Rwanda has paid an undisclosed amount as fee to extend its sponsorship deal with Arsenal FC as the government builds on its campaign to boost tourism through partnerships with European football clubs.

The deal, estimated to be upwards of $100 million, according to a source privy to the negotiations, will run up to 2023 after the first three years of the partnership expired in May.

There is, however, potential to extend the deal up to 2025 at no extra cost as Rwanda seeks to convince Arsenal that the deal bore no fruit last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted tourism and football activities.

“Rwanda did not gain much from its deal with Arsenal because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials are now negotiating with Arsenal to see if the deal can be extended further under the same terms.

‘‘The negotiations are advanced so expect an announcement soon,” a source told The EastAfrican.

The Arsenal deal extension is coming at a most opportune time for Rwanda which also sponsors French club Paris Saint Germain (PSG), since 2019. The recent move of Argentinian football icon Lionel Messi to PSG from Barcelona, has therefore granted Rwanda a jackpot win to leverage it’s tourism.

PSG also promotes the “Visit Rwanda” slogan on its women’s team kit, men’s training kit and in the club’s stadium. “We are very pleased with our strategic partnership with French Football giants PSG.

‘‘As partners, we welcome the signing of Lionel Messi and other exciting new signings. We believe that success on and off the pitch is key to a mutually beneficial partnership. We look forward to engaging more with the growing Paris Saint Germaine Community for business and other creative exchange,” Deputy CEO of Rwanda Development Board Zephanie Niyonkuru said.

PSG gained up to four million followers on Instagram after announcing Messi’s two-year deal, from 38.7 million to 42.7 million.

Last year, 851 social media “Visit Rwanda” posts were shared, creating organic visibility and generating 110 million impressions, reaching 78.5 million accounts, and drawing 10.5 million engagements.

A survey conducted by the Rwanda Development Board showed that the likelihood of tourists to visit Rwanda as a result of its partnership with Arsenal increased from 35 percent in 2019 to 41 percent in 2020.

This, however, did not bear fruit due to the coronavirus pandemic that halted international travel.

Rwanda’s tourism revenues declined by a whopping 76 percent from $498 million in 2019 to $121 million in 2020 owing to the pandemic.

The country received 493,734 international visitors in 2020, mostly from African countries, out of which only 1,200 were from the UK and 924 from France.

The prospectus now look brighter for Rwanda’s tourism with the lockdown lifted and international travel back on course.

Rwanda’s deals with the European clubs have sharply divided opinion with some endorsing the country’s plan as strategic while others say Rwanda’s status as a low income country does not merit the sponsorships.

There is also concern over transparency as little information about the deals has been made public.

All parties – Rwanda, Arsenal and PSG – have not disclosed how much Rwanda paid for the partnerships.

In the UK particularly, there was a lot of public outrage, with media houses questioning how a poor country can afford to sponsor a wealthy club, which forced the government to distance itself from funding Rwanda’s tourism. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) in May 2018 released a statement noting that it does not give any money to ‘’Visit Rwanda’’ or the Rwanda Development Board.

“All UK aid to Rwanda is earmarked for specific programmes only, such as education and agriculture, and we track results to ensure value for money for UK taxpayers. We are helping Rwanda to stand on its own two feet, building education systems that they invest in themselves, and supporting increased trade and investment to grow the economy,” DFID said.

Rwanda Development Board defended its decisions, noting that funds for Arsenal sponsorship deal were generated through sale of tourism products, and that “anyone who criticises our deal with Arsenal on account of Rwanda being poor or an aid recipient, either wishes for Rwanda to be perpetually so.”

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