Safaricom last week made a turnaround and announced that it would sponsor the 2015 Safari Seven tournament set to be held from 2nd to 4th October. This announcement came about 5 months since they withdrew from sponsoring rugby following allegations of corruption and fraud with Kenya Rugby Union.
At the time of the withdrawal, leadership wrangles had been ongoing at KRU which in turn affected play on the field as well. Richard Omwela the KRU Chairman assured sponsors that the Board would improve governance, accountability and transparency within the Union and the sport. Since then the Board has initiated measures aimed at cleaning their house. Some of the changes effected in the last few months by the board include new human resource procedures, financial processes and guidelines to engage and remunerate managers, coaches and players. Also the introduction of a new C.E.O and C.F.O has led to separation of the board to provide strategic direction with the operational arm of the union being led by a secretariat.
The board’s efforts seems to have placated Safaricom. According to Sylvia Mulinge Director -Consumer Business, they (Safaricom) had reviewed the steps taken by KRU to address the issues raised when sponsorship was withdrawn in April and were confident with the progress. Hence the resumption of the sponsorship to the tune of Kshs.30 million. However it did not extend to the 2016 edition of the National Sevens Circuit or Safari sevens tournament with Safaricom adopting a cautious approach towards full sponsorship of the circuit until it is fully satisfied with KRU’s remedial measures.
Part of the changes includes the reappointment of Benjamin Ayimba as the head coach for the Kenya sevens team. Ayimba served as the coach between 2006 and 2011, his best years with the team being 2009 when he led Shujaa to their first ever World series cup final in Adelaide as well as the semifinal of the 2009 Rugby World cup sevens in Dubai. Also individuals adversely mentioned in the PKF audit report will not be involved in the governance or financial decisions of the union.
With the return of Safaricom as sponsor, we expect that they will push for radical reforms within the Union. Once effected Kenya has the potential to return to being a rugby power house a position abdicated due to the corruption and persistent leadership wrangles at KRU. Also the funds advanced by the telco can be used to buy training equipment, provide for adequate renumeration for the players and coaches to avoid strikes which disrupt training, provide prize money for the various circuits among other things which in the end will increase the depth of the rugby squads.