Best of 2018: SportPesa's Footprint In Sport Hit A Higher Notch

Dec 23 - by SPN Correspondent for SportPesa News

To top up the success of a roaring 2017 was always going to be a tough act to follow for the leading gaming firm

Cenk Tosun of Everton (right) vies for the ball with Gor Mahia FC’s Sammy Onyango during their SportPesa Trophy clash at Goodison Park on November 6, 2018 in Liverpool, England. PHOTO/Getty Images

  • For starters, a record crowd, the kind that had never been seen at the 60,000-seater stadium since 1997 when Harambee Stars played the mighty Nigeria Super Eagles in a 1998 World Cup qualifier turned up to watch the match
  • For starters, a record crowd, the kind that had never been seen at the 60,000-seater stadium since 1997 when Harambee Stars played the mighty Nigeria Super Eagles in a 1998 World Cup qualifier turned up to watch the match
  • A country erupted when Zarika was crowned the champion by a 2-1 split decision after a bruising 10-round contest with Mercado, 21, warming hearts with her dogged display at the punishing elevation of Nairobi
  • Everton brushed aside Gor 4-0 on November 6 with the blues fielding an side stuck with internationals where the Kenyan side were offered an unforgettable lesson of what it takes to make it to the top of international club football

NAIROBI, Kenya- To top up the success of a roaring 2017 where the leading gaming platform in Africa partnered to bring memorable events and programmes to this part of the world such as the inaugural SportPesa Cup or landmark Everton FC trip to Tanzania was always going to be a tough act to follow.

The task was made even more difficult for those involved in sports development initiatives at the firm when the year started with a freeze on SportPesa partnerships in Kenya following the government move to impose steep taxation on gaming.

On April 23, the SportPesa announced it had returned to the scene as a sigh of relief swept across the local sporting fraternity with Gor Mahia FC, AFC Leopards SC, SportPesa Premier League (SPL) and Football Kenya Federation in its portfolio.

On the same day, the gaming giant also announced it would take up the naming rights of the domestic cup competition- the rebranded SportPesa Shield Cup- in a three-year deal when the previous agreement with pay television providers GOtv lapsed in 2017.

“Despite the economic policy setbacks we have suffered over the past few months, we remain committed to supporting local sports as much as we can,” SportPesa CEO, Captain Ronald Karauri said at a joint press conference with the Ministry of Sport, Youth and Heritage in Nairobi at the time.

“I thank SportPesa profusely for coming back despite the heavy taxation, it has been a difficult time at KPL involving 18 clubs thus we’ve to appreciate despite the reduction in amounts,” Gor and Kenyan Premier League chairman, Ambrose Rachier, remarked at the time.

“We want to assure them that we will give them value for their money by winning trophies. We now need parliament to pass legislation to allow big companies and corporates to pump more money in sports,” his Leopards counterpart Mule declared.

Barely a week later, the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru was the battleground for the second Mashemeji Derby of 2018 where eternal rivals Gor and Leopards locked horns in a one-off clash dubbed the ‘Hull City Challenge’ on May 1.

After a bloodied 0-0 draw, the SPL winners prevailed 5-4 in a marathon penalty shootout for the prize of taking on EFL Championship (second division) side Hull City FC who were flying in for a historic tour of Kenya.

When the Tigers landed in Nairobi on May 11, no one had prepared the nation for what was about to unfold at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, the cathedral of Kenyan sport two days later.

For starters, a record crowd, the kind that had never been seen at the 60,000-seater stadium since 1997 when Harambee Stars played the mighty Nigeria Super Eagles in a 1998 World Cup qualifier turned up to watch the match.

Pristine surface

The game itself was played in a pristine surface funded by SportPesa who brought French firm Grigori International to fix the pitch in another lasting legacy of the Hull visit.


Dignitaries at a packed Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani when Gor Mahia FC played Hull City FC in May 2018. PHOTO/File

Manager Nigel Adkins and his side toured a number of estates around Nairobi, donating kit and coaching aspiring footballers from community teams in what left lasting impressions on the locals as they pursue their dream of turning professional.

The dust had hardly settled on the landmark Hull visit when the second edition of the SportPesa Cup was held in Nakuru from June 2 to 10.

When the idea to host such a big tournament in the lakeside town that is located 154km from the capital was initially mooted, few gave organisers a chance of pulling it off.

Four of the teams taking part, Yanga SC, Simba SC, Singida United FC and Jeshi La Kujenga Uchumi SCZ flew in from Tanzania and Zanzibar before connecting to Nakuru along with their contingents.

The town was abuzz and despite the heavy rains that pounded the fourth largest city in the country, sizeable crowds turned up at the monumental Afraha to soak in the action offered by the second edition of the eight-team invitational tournament.

Majority were rooting for home sides Gor, Leopards as well as debutants Kakamega Homeboyz and Kariobangi Sharks FC but loyal Simba and Yanga fans that bussed all the way for Dar-es-Salaam only served to add the spectacle of colour.

Gor retained their crown when they outclassed Simba 2-0 in the decider at a capacity packed Afraha in what was a fitting end to a breathless event.

Four days after the Afraha show stopper (June 14), the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia with SportPesa giving football fans around the Kenyan capital a unique viewing experience using the crowd-pulling innovation dubbed ‘Stadium on Wheels’.

Having been launched at the tail-end of 2017, the SportPesa Viewing and Commentary truck came to its own during the world cup, as thousands thronged to watch high-octane action from Russia at every stop with entertainment served up alongside the football.

Zarika rules

The equipment set up at N-Market (Waiyaki Way), Archives (CBD), Em Bul Bul (Ngong Road) and Ngong among other stops to acclaim with the final between France and Croatia attracting a mammoth crowd at the latter.

In August, the build-up to the eagerly anticipated bout between home girl Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika and Mexican challenger, Yamileth ‘Yeimi’ Mercado for the WBC World Super Bantamweight title ruled the airwaves.

On September 8, the moment of truth arrived with the two boxers trading blows at a crowded dome set up at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre with hundreds of others re-directed to watch the fight in Archives where the ‘Stadium on Wheels’ was beaming the showdown.

A country erupted when Zarika was crowned the champion by a 2-1 split decision after a bruising 10-round contest with Mercado, 21, warming hearts with her dogged display at the punishing elevation of Nairobi.

On the same day, Harambee Stars stunned Ghana 1-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Nairobi that made the capacity-filled Zarika-Mercado fight a novelty since historically, no other sporting event has been known to compete for following when the national football team is playing.


Kenya’s Fatuma Zarika (left) and Yamileth Mercado during their WBC World Super bantamweight title fight in Nairobi. PHOTO/File

Less than a month later, Gor (November 2) boarded a Kenya Airways flight to London before connecting to Liverpool as the club broke frontiers as the first Kenyan outfit to travel to the UK to face an English Premier League side.

They clinched the honour for retaining their SportPesa Cup crown in June and Kenyans were able to see one of their own given the kind of treatment enjoyed by top clubs in the world.

From the resplendent suits they wore on their flight out to training at the Finch Firm Training Complex where Everton have bred global football super stars, Gor looked every inch an EPL, not SPL side.

Everton brushed aside Gor 4-0 on November 6 with the blues fielding an side stuck with internationals where the Kenyan side were offered an unforgettable lesson of what it takes to make it to the top of international club football. 

“It’s not every day that an East African club gets to play on an EPL pitch and this will remain with them forever. We all are very grateful to SportPesa for this once in a lifetime opportunity,” immediate Gor head coach, Dylan Kerr remarked after the game.

A day after the game, Gor toured KCOM Stadium, the home of Hull to catch up with the team they had welcomed to Nairobi.

“I’m really happy that you managed to get time to come and visit us here in Hull.  It’s really great to see you all and I hope you’re time in the UK has been memorable,” Tigers legend, Dean Windass told.

Over and above Hull City in Kenya, Super Cup, Zarika-Mercado, Stadium on Wheels and Gor in Everton other SportPesa programmes that made a difference were the Kits of Africa and grassroots football initiatives.

Hundreds of community teams in Nairobi, Machakos, Kisumu and Mombasa received equipment donated by English sides Everton, Southampton FC and Hull City.

Having made such huge steps, the marker for a bigger 2019 has been laid and the leading gaming firm has accepted the challenge.