Surely not...? I can't make any sense of the sentence with that substitution, unless something else is added. "In contrast to the fact that,,,' perhaps. I'd've said 'while' or 'whereas'.
Back at the OP: I have no idea what 'sported' means here. It looks as though the writer first put 'had', and was misled by a dictionary of synonyms! One sports a striking piece of clothing, or a new haircut. (It might be a technical term used in microbiology, but I doubt it.)
Student or Learner