Non-payments for Kenya rugby players to be investigated

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan parliamentary committee will investigate the Kenya Rugby Union in a player payments scandal which has cost the national sevens team its most successful coach and a big sponsorship.

Victor Munyaka, chairperson of the committee on sports, said the investigation won't risk title-contender Kenya's participation in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in a month. Kenya has reached the semifinals in the last two editions.

At issue is the KRU's failure to pay the players.

On May 24, the KRU signed a 20 million Kenyan shillings ($198,000) sponsorship agreement with the government, making the Kenya Sevens team global ambassadors for the country at the end of the sevens world series and for the upcoming Sevens World Cup. The team was to unveil jerseys fronted by a "Make It Kenya" logo at the Paris Sevens on June 9-10.

Part of the sponsorship was a bonus 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($990) to each player as a reward for their efforts in reaching two finals and earning a record 104 series points.

The KRU said it banked the first sponsorship payment of 4 million Kenyan shillings ($39,600), but not until after the team left for Europe, and not until 11 days after the contract was signed "due to unforeseen circumstances."

The KRU admitted some of the money was spent on helping the national 15s team.

A statement by 19 players in the sevens squad said the KRU promised the money would be in their accounts before they left for Europe, which eased their minds because they were still waiting for their May salaries.

The players say management failed to meet four more deadlines for the bonuses. The players said they believed their bonuses were delayed because the KRU was using the sponsorship monies to pay off a bank overdraft.

Hong Kong Rugby 7's.World rugby sevens series Cup semi-final between NZ and Kenya. Photo/Photosport
Hong Kong Rugby 7's.World rugby sevens series Cup semi-final between NZ and Kenya. Photo/Photosport

Two days before the Paris Sevens, the players said they unanimously decided to mask the logo on their jerseys to force the KRU to open up.

"We were left with no other option," the players' statement said.

"The issues we have raised are basic but crucial. Player welfare is key for us to move to the next level and we feel like this is what is holding us back and if it continues, we shall never ever play to our full potential and most upcoming players will never realise their dream fully.

"We feel like so much is demanded of us by the union but they aren't even doing the bare minimum to make sure we focus on bringing in the results."

As a result of masking the logo, Najib Balala, the government's head of tourism, canceled the sponsorship contract. He accused the KRU of breaching it by failing to pay the players, whom he said "embarrassed the country" for covering up the logo. Regardless, Balala said the players should approach the government for their bonuses.

On the same day, the KRU fired sevens coach Innocent Simiyu, who took responsibility for the logo decision. He had four months left on his two-year contract.

His English assistant this past season, William Webster, was appointed coach for the Sevens World Cup.

The KRU's money problems also extended to the national 15s team. Lack of funds forced it to cancel a trip to South Africa this month for two warmup games for Rugby World Cup qualifying. Despite everything, Kenya won its opening qualifier on Saturday beating Morocco 28-24 in Casablanca for the first time.

Munyaka promised an investigation. "We are committed to getting to the bottom of this matter," he said.

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