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Arsenal sponsored by... Rwanda?
02:19 - Source: CNN

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Arsenal and Rwanda sign a three-year tourism partnership

Critics say money should help alleviate poverty

CNN  — 

With ‘Visit Rwanda’ emblazoned on its kit, Arsenal F.C. made its season debut against Manchester City in a big-name clash in the English Premier League Sunday.

The sponsorship is a bid to promote tourism in the central East African nation, but with the World Bank’s projections showing that 51 percent of Rwandans live in extreme poverty, critics have slammed the multimillion dollar deal.

Arsenal announced the three-year tourism partnership in the lead up to the start of the Premier League season – but neither side has confirmed exactly just how much it cost.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil wears the "Visit Rwanda" logo on the sleeve during the team's season opener.

“The media has been speculating around £30 million but what I can tell you it’s not £30 million, it’s less than that,” CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Clare Akamanzi, told CNN.

It appears the investment stems from the country’s president, Paul Kagame, who describes himself as a “committed fan” of his “beloved club Arsenal” – a devotion shared by many Rwandans.

The country hopes to convert the money spent on the deal into tourism dollars.

The logo will appear on all first team, Under-23 and Arsenal Women’s shirts.

“Thirty five million people (will be) viewing their (Arsenal’s) shirts every single day,” Akamanzi said.

‘That’s fairly obscene’

However, critics say the money should have been spent alleviating the chronic poverty in the country.

“I think when millions of Rwandans are living on less than a pound a day ($1.28), that’s fairly obscene,” UK Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told CNN. “The public have a right to know how our aid budget is being spent, and the people of Rwanda have a right to know how their president is spending their money.”

The UK has committed £57 million ($72.7 million) in aid to Rwanda this year and a further £54 million ($69 million) for 2019, largely to develop education and agriculture, as well as foster “the accountability of the state to all of its citizens.”

Rwandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe responded to criticism by saying, “for those other MPs, it’s none of their business. I will repeat that, it’s none of their business.”

The Rwandan government says funding to sponsor Arsenal has come from tourism revenue, rather than the millions in global aid it receives annually. The RBD reports that 1.3 million people visited Rwanda last year.

In May, Akamanzi responded to critics on Twitter who say the money Rwanda has earned through tourism should have been invested into the community.

“For those asking if tourism promotion funds should have been used for water or electricity, let me break it down for you: Infrastructure is imported,” she tweeted. “Tourism is our #1 forex earner. The more Rwanda earns from tourism, the more we can invest in our people. That’s the connection.”

Arsenal said in a statement that as part of the three-year deal, players from both the men’s and women’s teams are due to visit Rwanda to hold coaching camps. ‘Visit Rwanda’ will also be displayed on LED boards at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal, which is the sixth largest football club in the world, according to Deloitte, was not immediately available for comment. Manchester United has the top spot, followed by Real Madrid.

Watch the video above to find out more about Arsenal’s ‘Visit Rwanda’ deal

CNN’s Kara Fox and Edward Kiernan contributed to this report from Kigali.