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Kenya’s sad tale of betting billions and broke sports bodies

 Kenya Table Tennis Chairman Andrew Mudibo during NOCK elections at Panari Hotel in Nairobi on Sept 29, 2017. [Photo: Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Despite the existence of a National Sports Fund, debt-ridden sports associations cannot access funds from betting taxes as the battle to repeal the Fund and set up a new one rumbles on.

The Ministry of Sports together with the National Treasury recently moved to amend and repeal sections of the Sports Act establishing and operationalisation of the National Sports Fund and the National Sports Fund Board of Trustees.

This has generated a lot of interest in local sports fraternity. According to Treasury, the move is meant to provide a comprehensive approach to the financing of the sports sector through a fund established and managed in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act, 2012.

However, Parliament has since annulled the move pending submissions by stakeholders and the Sports CS Rashid Echesa and Principal Secretary, Kirimi Kaberia.

Last week, Kenya Table Tennis Association president Andrew Mudibo appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Sports, Culture and Tourism and talks to Standard Sports Editor Robin Toskin.

Question. The Ministry of Sports has brought a bill to Parliament to amend the Sports Act, 2013 to repeal the provisions relating to the establishment and operation of the National Sports Fund and the National Sports Fund Board of Trustees in order to provide a comprehensive approach to financing of the sports sector through a fund established and managed in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act, 2012. Why do you want the current Fund to still be there?

Answer: The current Fund is operational. We saw it sponsor the Kenya Open PGA Tour early this year to the tune of Sh50million. This shows that it has the capacity and ability to fund major sporting events. The current Fund should not have a problem funding more federations even as we wait for the new fund. What we are asking is for equity, that all sports federations that have met the criteria for funding should be funded. We do not oppose a new fund neither do we oppose the current Fund, but we ask that it be facilitated by giving it money so that sports can benefit.

Kenya hosted world under 18 Athletics championships. After that, suppliers were up in arms for lack of payment. If we are to successfully host the World under 20 championships, which reputable supplier will partner with sports yet they were let down by Sports Kenya, a statutory body supposed to get funds from the National Sports Fund legally drawing money from betting, lottery and gaming money.

Q. Parliament nullified the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund Regulations 2018 meaning the new Fund does not exist. How does this impact funding of sports?

A. The nullification of the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund Regulations 2018 should not mean sports funding, in general, cannot continue because the National Sports Fund is here, it has a Board and staff. The current Fund must be given money by the Government for it to serve the sports fraternity and public. We need to solve the problem of funding sports and this cannot be an everyday occurrence yet the Sports Act 2013 gave the solution to this.

Q. When you appeared before the Parliamentary Committee last week, you pleaded for some money to be released to the Sports Fund. Why do you want them to release a portion of the fund that has been collected instead of all of it?

A. Sports will never develop if you still have debts that are due for settlement. These debts are bottlenecks to the smooth running of the activities of federations.

At the moment, many federations are burning the goodwill that they had with various establishments that had accepted to offer services before payment. Once the goodwill is killed how do you go back to service providers for similar services? The standard of our athletes keeps going down because we cannot concentrate on talent development, instead, we are concentrating on clearing these financial obligations.

As Parliament and the ministry work on the current legal issues, treasury through relevant protocols and laws should immediately release at least Sh1 billion collected from betting, gaming and lottery to the National Sports Fund to enable it fund federations so that all the pending debts from either hosting or participating in International events can be settled.

This money can be released as special purpose funds under the Sports Act (Section 31) which makes it easier to disburse to meet specific needs as directed by the Ministry of Sports to the Fund based on pressing financial needs of federations.

A transitional period between the current Sports Fund and any suggested vehicle should also be introduced so that sports activities do not come to a standstill. This is because sporting activities continue every day and they do not stop even with the annulment of the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund Regulations 2018.

Q. Are you happy with how money for sports has been spent by the Sports Fund and for that matter the Ministry of Sports?

A. There is need for the public to have confidence on how public funds are spent and handled. With the kind of money that flows into the Sports sector, I do believe that the Fund should be reporting to the Parliamentary committee on Sports and also to the public periodically on how much it has received from the Government, who it has funded and the outcome of funding. This is provided for in the Sports Act (Section 17(5)) and is a measure of checks and balances.

On the same note, I think it is also reasonable that the Ministry of Sports to do the same on the funds it has distributed to Sports Federations and also the criteria used in allocating funds.

The perennial scandals in sports from major games that they country is participating in and also events that Kenya has hosted has seen with time the reduction of corporate world involvement in the sector. This is worrying to the development of sports in the country and we must win back the confidence of both the public and corporate on how we run sports, right from the top.

Q. What is the way forward for sports funding in Kenya?

A. The Sports Act 2013 was a good starting point where federations would have been brought closer to the government and corporates. All the statutory bodies such as Sports Kenya, Sports Tribunal established under the Act would then be funded using the revenue sources outlined. This act envisioned a creation of a National Sports Lottery, but as it is today this could remain a pipedream. And so with each passing day an Oliech, Odumbe, Mariga, Ndereba etc… suffers because sports is not taken seriously.

Q. Finally, what do you have to say on the Sports Fund and proposed new body?

A. From the time the idea of Sports Fund mooted, we as sports administrators insisted that we must have representation from Sports Federations. These are the stakeholders and if you just have technocrats this will not work for you need the sports people to bring on board their experiences and how international federations work.

Yet even with the current Fund, there are 6 vacant seats on the Board of the Nationals sports Fund, 4 of these seats are for sports federations and its over 1 year and they have not been filled. These seats need to be filled immediately to enhance accountability. Parliament and all stakeholders should work together to urgently seal the legal loopholes that led to the annulment of the new Fund so that it is set up within the law in good time. Sports Fund should also be allowed to run the lottery for long-term funding and development of sports infrastructure in the country.

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