Arsenal have no plans to cancel their sleeve sponsorship deal with Visit Rwanda following the UK Supreme Court’s ruling that the government’s Rwanda immigration plan is “unlawful”.
No changes are anticipated to the four-year £10million-per-year ($12.5m) deal signed in 2021 with Visit Rwanda, which first appeared on Arsenal shirts in 2018.
When delivering the verdict, Lord Robert Reed, president of the court, said Rwanda “has a poor human rights record”, citing evidence from the UN’s refugee agency. Lord Reed added there was a “real risk” asylum seekers could be sent from Rwanda to the places they fled from.
The written ruling stated that “most human rights violations were said to be linked to criticisms of the Rwandan government” with “constraints on media freedom and political activities” and questions about the country’s compliance with international human rights agreements.
Wednesday’s ruling comes following legal challenges to the UK and Rwandan governments’ Asylum Partnership Agreement, which was announced in April 2022. That plan, led by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, would see the UK send asylum seekers from their shores to Rwanda, where they would be processed under the African country’s asylum system.
As reported by the BBC, a Rwandan government statement said it “takes issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees” and that it “is committed to its international obligations”.
Arsenal maintain their deal is about promoting tourism in a developing country rather than supporting the country’s political leadership. However, Visit Rwanda is an arm of the Rwanda Development Board which is a government department.
Visit Rwanda also has deals with Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.
Arsenal’s Visit Rwanda sponsorship: The impact, criticisms and what fans think
When did Arsenal partner with Visit Rwanda?
Arsenal’s deal with Visit Rwanda began in May 2018, when they signed a three-year deal with the Rwanda Development Board. In 2021, Arsenal signed another £10million-per-year ($12.5m) sleeve sponsorship contract with Visit Rwanda lasting another four seasons.
As well as appearing on shirt sleeves of Arsenal’s men’s, women’s and youth teams, the Visit Rwanda logo has been seen on LED boards at the Emirates Stadium and interview backdrops.
Several past and present Arsenal players have visited Rwanda as part of their agreement. In August 2022, Arsenal published footage on their channels of club legends Ray Parlour and Robert Pires’ trip. Last December, four women’s team players — Jen Beattie, Caitlin Foord, Katie McCabe, and Jordan Nobbs — also visited Rwanda. Sponsored content using various active men’s players has been produced since 2018 and Arsenal fans can also buy Visit Rwanda merchandise at the club shop.
The difficulties with Arsenal’s deal
Arsenal’s deal has prompted criticism because the Rwandan government stands accused of serial abuses by multiple human rights groups, with international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch alleging torture is commonplace alongside a failure to conduct investigations into “suspicious deaths”. Fellow NGO Amnesty International says “disappearances from previous years remained unresolved”.
Last year, Arsenal told The Athletic it carried out “extensive research” before signing the deal, which is focused on boosting tourism in a developing country.
“Our partnership is focussed on promoting the country and helping the tourism sector recover from the pandemic,” a spokesperson said. “Prior to the pandemic, visitor numbers from key countries including the UK and across Europe had shown significant increases which coincide with the start of our partnership.
“In 2019, Rwanda experienced a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors for tourism and MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) from across Europe, and an 18 per cent year-on-year increase from the UK.”
In 2021, the UK government criticised Rwanda at the United Nations Human Rights Council for “extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.
“I think Arsenal fans should worry about their football club supporting one of the most repressive regimes in Africa,” author Michela Wrong told The Athletic last year. “Given what is going on in his country, the president has blood on his hands.”
While Rwanda was a fairly niche issue in the UK when Arsenal first signed the deal, that has all changed over the last year as the Conservative government has pursued its ‘Rwanda policy’ which has now been thrown out by the Supreme Court.
As Arsenal’s Premier League season continues, in the UK, Rwanda now may become synonymous with ongoing political battles as the right-wing of the Conservative Party proposes leaving the European Court of Human Rights which they blame for blocking the Rwanda deal.
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