A storm has erupted after Kenya Lionesses failed to travel for Dubai Sevens women’s invitational tournament for the first time since 2009 after Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) was unable to fund the trip.
That happened as Kenya Sevens team Shujaa departed for the opening leg of the 2017/2018 World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai starting Friday.
KRU chairman Richard Omwela that they could not have sustained Lionesses' stay in Dubai since the Union’s financial base isn’t viable at the moment. The Union needed close to Sh 3.5m for Lionesses’ stay in Dubai.
Omwela said that unlike Shujaa, who are fully sponsored by the World Rugby and SportPesa, the women’s team have no full sponsors with SportPesa having only roped them in with no major sponsorship.
“The tournament is an invitational tournament where we are supposed to pay for Lionesses air tickets, accommodation and other grounds logistics,” said Omwela, explaining that the recent tour of Kenya Simbas for the Hong Kong Cup of Nations, ploughed into their coffers.
Over Sh5 million was spent on the Hong Kong trip that was not sponsored.
”We looked at where we are financially and we thought that we couldn’t afford to fund Lionesses. That is the truth of the matter,” said Omwela, adding that the rescue by the Ministry of Sports came in a bit late.
The Ministry had offered to assist the team but were tine bad as the deadline for teams confirming had already passed.
In August last year, SportPesa entered into Sh 607million partnership with KRU for a period of five years. Shujaa drew Sh60 million annually from the package, with Sh 60miilion being shared among Kenya 15s, Women’s Rugby and Junior teams.
Sources within Lionesses management blamed KRU’s board and especially chief finance officer Fred Yida for negligence by not paying participation fee of Sh 150,000.
“Paying the participation fee is one way of confirming attendance and that wasn’t done,” said a source that sought anonymity for fear of being victimised.
However, Omwela defended Yida saying he had nothing to do with it. “We can't pass the back here. It was not a question of participation fee but the available resources for Dubai,” said Omwela.
The social media was also abuzz with many questioning why the Lionesses couldn’t travel yet SportPesa set some money aside for the team.
“My biggest worry and question is why were the girls paraded during the SportPesa launch,” posted Kisii Rugby Club chairman Walter Orangi on his Facebook page.
Orangi's status drew mixed reactions with Peter Njiru saying that SportPesa’s main focus was to get into World Sevens Series which is the men’s tournament.
"Sponsorship particularly targets the men’s team, let’s not run away from that responsibility,” said Njiru.