I HAVE always been fascinated by issues surrounding sponsorship in sports.
Few things get sports politicians into action than sponsorship.
Sponsorship is a source of huge amounts of revenue for sportsmen and sports organisations.
Without the backing of sponsors, modern sports would certainly not be the money-spinning business that it is.
Throughout the world’s top athletes benefit from lucrative commercial endorsements, and sports clubs and associations survive almost entirely on financial backing from businesses and wealthy individuals.
But sponsorship can turn out to be a burning and problematic matter if not handled properly.
In Zimbabwe, perhaps the most known sponsorship controversy is from few seasons ago when local top flight soccer league giants Caps United vehemently declined to terminate their sponsorship deal with NetOne, the mobile telephone company whose rival, Econet, was the sponsor of the league.
The bone of contention was that as league sponsor, Econet retained inclusive rights for maximum mileage in the mobile phone services sector and therefore no club under the leagueâ€™s banner could sup with a competitor. Econet later prematurely ended their relationship with the Premier Soccer League, and the rest is history.
Issues of sponsorship also do get ludicrous. For a decade, Castle Lager had become synonymous with the Cosafa Castle Cup, the regional Southern African soccer championship it sponsored and made popular in the region.
Last year South African Breweries called it quits, and the tournament changed its name to become the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup.
With that even mere mention of the tournamentâ€™s old name by television commentators during this yearâ€™s edition was viewed as free advertisement, so was avoided, almost comically.
â€œAfter years of being called something else, the tournament has changed its name to the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup,â€ repeated Supersport pundits Mark Gleeson and William Shongwe with some clumsiness during a live broadcast of the match between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Talking of Castle, South African Test cricket batsman Hashim Amla, a devout Muslim, veils the Castle Lager logo on his playing gear with a sticker because his religion does not permit the promotion of alcohol. Castle is one of South African cricketâ€™s biggest sponsor.
Amla has not escaped without sharp criticism, being labelled a hypocrite because Castle duly pays his salary, which he takes without objection. Last week Zimbabwean soccer clubs unanimously agreed to postpone the beginning of the countryâ€™s biggest knockout trophy, the CBZ FA Cup over issues pertaining to participation costs and proceeds.
The clubs felt the sponsorship package figure of US$200 000 at the interbank rate of the day was not going to be sufficient for a competition involving 64 clubs from the length and breadth of the country.
Clubs feared they would end up spending more to fulfil matches than what would actually be deposited into their bank accounts as prize money at the end of the tournament.
Sponsors put their money into sports and they deserve maximum mileage.
By the same token, clubs also deserve value for their participation and popularisation of the brand name of the sponsor. Itâ€™s a win-win scenario. A fortnight ago, a giant soft drink manufacturer sponsored a popular national schools tournament for $200 trillion dollars then.
A colleague remarked that the company was enjoying â€œfree mileageâ€, which had me concurring because just a week earlier, an individual, businessman Alex Mashamhanda, had bankrolled a smaller and less-publicised tournament to the tune of over $600 trillion. In Zimbabwe most clubs are run by individuals who dig deep into their pockets without equivalent returns coming into club coffers.
They pay an arm and a leg just to fulfil away league matches.
So when itâ€™s time for what is supposed to be a rich cup competition, at least they want some of these weigh downs to be reduced. Â
In their diplomatic way, the clubs said this at their meeting in Kwekwe two weeks ago. They said they welcome sponsorship deals, but not the sort that makes them unequal partners.