The Epic Tanzania Tour – Sportswashing Abuses Against the Maasai
Priced at US$24,990 per person for single occupancy, the Epic Tanzania Tour — a luxury tennis-themed safari hosted by “tennis legends” John and Patrick McEnroe — offers an adventure where “dreams can become a reality.” The eight-day “expedition” in December 2023 is marketed as a “truly extraordinary experience to explore Africa’s most iconic landscapes.” A partnership between the government of Tanzania and US travel firm Insider Expeditions, the tour promises 120 participants a tennis match between the McEnroe brothers, a visit to the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, a hot-air balloon flight over the savannah, champagne breakfasts, and scenic safari game drives.
Beneath the veneer of luxury and a special, one-of-a-kind experience, however, lurks a grim reality. The tour advertises “an exclusive opportunity to experience the culture […] of the Maasai people,” but their lives, livelihoods, and culture are under relentless attack. For years, the Tanzanian government has embarked on policies and plans to forcibly displace Maasai communities, in order to make way for lucrative high-end safari tourism and trophy hunting. This has been accomplished through oppression, widespread human rights abuses, and restrictions that severely undermine their pastoralist livelihoods so that wealthy safari-goers and trophy hunters can enjoy Tanzania’s “pristine” wildlife.
Sportswashing Tanzania’s Abuse of Indigenous Maasai Communities
Enthusiastically welcoming the McEnroe brothers and their guests, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has said that “our country continues to grow through efforts like this, which expose the vistas and our people to new experiences from visitors around the world.” The Epic Tanzania Tour is, however, just a sportswashing exercise by a regime notorious for human rights abuses, attempting to sanitize its image through a high-profile sports event.
With seven Grand Slam titles to his name, John McEnroe is one of the most well-known tennis players in the world. An Emmy-nominated sports analyst, he is often referred to as “the voice of tennis.” His brother, Patrick McEnroe, who also had a successful tennis career, is a tennis commentator for ESPN and President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the tour, the Tanzania Tourism Board is already fostering new partnerships with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the United States Tennis Association, and the International Tennis Federation.
The Epic Tanzania Tour is awash with sportswashing opportunities. The excursion starts with a welcome and dinner reception hosted by President Samia Suluhu along with other high-ranking Tanzanian officials. Participants of the VIP package — starting at US$26,990 per person — will partake in a meet and greet and photo opportunity with the President herself. A special tennis court is being built in a Maasai Cultural Village located in Ngorongoro, in honor of John and Patrick McEnroe. The brothers also plan to “conduct a clinic for the Maasai children” — which is profoundly cynical given the Tanzanian government has withheld essential medical services for the Maasai in order to pressure them to leave their homeland in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The Endulen Church hospital — the only hospital for nearly 60,000 pastoralists in the NCA — was downgraded to a clinic. Ambulance and emergency services were discontinued and all government nurses, therapists, and radiation specialists were relocated to other areas. The Flying Medical Service was grounded for 16 months and is now only allowed to attend to emergencies, but not vaccination or maternal and child care.
Erasing the Maasai
Peddling the myth of “pristine” nature, the Epic Tanzania Tour promises participants an “untouched African safari.” The planned itinerary provides extensive descriptions of Tanzania's “beautiful wildlife havens” and daily opportunities to experience the local wildlife. There is little recognition of the Maasai inhabitants and stewards of this land other than an afternoon tour of a Maasai village — a “cultural boma” set up as an entertaining sideshow for tourists, while Maasai residents face eviction from their lands.
Oblivious to the recent arrests and repression of Maasai communities peacefully protesting cuts to social services, including health and education, Insider Expeditions insincerely claims that the tour will “bring goodwill and cultural exchange.” Security during the visit of the Serengeti National Park will be ensured by “armed national park rangers” — the same rangers implicated in routine violence and abuse of the locals. A stark example is the case of Joshua Kirtila Patoro, a 15-year-old herder, brutally attacked by rangers while watching over cattle near his village in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in July 2023. These atrocities are everyday occurrences for the Maasai, enabled by the government that seeks to forcibly displace them from their lands.
Devastating Tourism and Trophy Hunting
To boost tourism and trophy hunting, the Tanzanian government has systematically expanded so-called “protected areas” — prohibiting pastoralist residents from living on the land, using it for grazing, or accessing water for household and agricultural use — prioritizing financial gains over the survival and culture of local communities.
In June 2022, the government violently demarcated 1,500 square kilometers of land in Loliondo to create the Pololeti Game Reserve for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates Royal family. During this brutal operation, security forces opened fire on protesting communities, leaving dozens wounded by live ammunition. Thousands — mainly women and children — were displaced and fled to Kenya for their safety, where they faced hunger and the hardship of being refugees. To suppress dissent, community members and civil society leaders were criminalized and imprisoned for months on false charges. As a result of this land grab, 70,000 people lost access to critical water sources and dry-season grazing land essential for their livestock and livelihoods.
A similarly dire situation is unfolding in the nearby NCA. This area is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site that includes the Ngorongoro Crater, which is also on the tour itinerary with a stop for a four-course meal with wine. However, nearly 80,000 people face eviction in the NCA. 10,000 residents have already been forced to leave their homes, while the remaining tens of thousands are without access to basic services. With the government’s drastic cuts in essential social services, Indigenous residents are coerced into “volunteering” for resettlement. Grazing areas remain constrained and home gardens are banned, resulting in an ongoing hunger crisis. Restricted access to water and grazing land has led to the deaths of over half a million livestock, undermining countless livelihoods.
Despite widespread international condemnation of the actions of the Tanzanian government and calls for it to respect human rights, the situation has worsened in recent months. In August and September 2023, more than 60 people were arrested in Endulen, Ngorongoro, for peaceful protests against ongoing forced evictions.
The government claims that removing pastoralists from their land serves to conserve ecosystems, yet it has failed to substantiate these assertions with credible evidence. As a result, the Maasai find themselves in a dire struggle for survival — facing violence, starvation, eviction, and disease as tourism firms financially profit off of both their stewardship and displacement.
Given the global spotlight on the courageous struggle of the Maasai in Tanzania against evictions and human rights abuses over the past year, for the Epic Tanzania Tour to proceed as planned reduces it to a sad sideshow, at the expense of the most marginalized. By choosing to turn a blind eye to these injustices and sportswashing the Tanzanian government, Insider Expeditions is tarnishing the legacy of the McEnroe brothers from the International Tennis Hall of Fame to the Hall of Shame.