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Tennis mess

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The future of an estimated 8,000 lawn tennis players in the country appears doomed after K3, 947,600 went missing under suspicious circumstances, throwing the sport in turmoil as a major stakeholder has suspended sponsorship, Malawi News can reveal.

Following the incident, Malawi National Council of Sports Council has suspended its K3 million annual grant to Lawn Tennis Association of Malawi (LTAM) while its major sponsor, Puma Energy’s sponsorship, including K5 million for Malawi Open and around K2 million for junior tennis, hangs in the balance.

According to reliable sources, LTAM borrowed the K3,947,900 from the Sports Council on the understanding that Puma Energy will refund it.

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As it is said that desperate times call for desperate actions, LTAM borrowed the money after exhausting its funding at a time when a junior tennis squad needed to travel to South Africa for a Southern Africa Junior Championship.

“With danger looming that the junior tennis squad will not participate in the championship, the executive members approached Puma Energy to bail out the team. The firm said it was ready to help the association, but feared that logistics would delay the release of the funds,” the source said.

“It was, therefore, agreed that we should approach Sports Council to borrow us on the understanding that Puma Energy will pay it back to Sports Council once the logistical process was through.”

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The Sports Council eventually released the funding after Puma Energy officially made a commitment to pay back the money.

“Things then turned sour when Sports Council wrote Puma Energy following up on the debt. To the Sports Council’s dismay, Puma Energy wrote back that it had remitted the money into LTAM [bank] account on the understanding that they will give it back to Council,” the source stated.

“According to Puma Energy, they did not want to complicate the transaction and accounting system. In their account books, it shows that they donated the money to LTAM and there was no need to deposit directly into the Sports Council’s account.”

LTAM General Secretary, Stan Kaunda, said the issue was blown out of proportion.

“To begin with, the issue only concerns an individual with the association. You can inquire from the president [Titani Muwalo]. Anyway Puma Energy hasn’t indicated that they will withdraw sponsorship while Sports Council has disclosed that they will be handling our finances until we sort out the issue,” he said.

However, in an e-mailed letter which Malawi News has seen, Kaunda said the poor handling of the money could cost LTAM dearly as it was like disrespecting a parent.

“Secondly, the failure to refund the money has had natural knock-on effects. We have failed to send a team to the ITF/Cat tournaments in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Thirdly, how do we (as the highest authority of tennis in Malawi) discipline coaches, players, kids when we behave like this? Even the little kids playing tennis will not respect us,” Kaunda wrote fellow executive committee members.

“Going forward, we need to rebuild trust with the two institutions. This can only be done if firstly the money is paid back as soon as possible. Only after paying back the money can we formally write Puma and Sports Council a letter of full explanation and apology. We cannot be apologising when we have not yet refunded the money.”

Muwalo said he was forced to use part of the money in question to send a junior player, Linda Msiska, to Africa Junior Championship in March in South Africa. He also said they used part of the money to pay outstanding dues to coaches.

“I am a businessman and I have my reputation and integrity to protect. We had to use some of the money on very important issues. We had no funds to send Msiska to Pretoria [South Africa] for the junior championship. We decided to use part of the money for Msiska’s trip because if we had failed, we could have attracted International Tennis Federation’s wrath. They could have suspended us,” he said.

Muwalo could not say how much the association was left with after using part of the money on the two assignments.

“When I was doing that, I knew what I was doing. Remember, I used money from my business amounting to K1 million to hold a tournament. So, I know what I am doing, in two or three weeks, I will pay back the money,” he said.

Sports Council Executive Director, George Jana, yesterday confirmed that LTAM failed to refund the money.

“The matter of LTAM not refunding money loaned to them on the strength of a promise of funding from Puma is correct and indeed we have indicated to them that we will not consider any funding needs to them until the money is refunded. We are also aware that Puma refunded the money to the LTAM for them to transfer the same to Council,” Jana explained.

Meanwhile, Puma Energy Managing Director, Davies Lanjesi, said they had asked LTAM to clear the mess.

“Our position is that we have asked them to deal with the issue. As for our annual sponsorship, it is too early to say that we will pull out our support. These are two different issues and they need to be treated separately,” he said.

Malawi News has established that Msiska’s accommodation in South Africa was fully paid for by the hosts International Tennis Federation and her return air ticket cost the association K320,000.

LTAM also still owes some six coaches each in the range of K40,000 and K60,000.

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