The Namibia Rugby Union (NRU) faces financial ruin after the previous administration left it with a string of debts that it is struggling to pay.
NRU president, Corrie Mensah, told the Windhoek Observer recently that they have been struggling to cover day-to-day expenses including salaries ever since the Namibia Rugby Limited (NRL) took control of rugby in the country.
Mensah, who was appointed union president in April, said funding for NRU’s programmes has since dried up after sponsors Namibia Breweries Limited, First National Bank Namibia and World Rugby jumped ship and followed former president, Bradley Basson, who is now in charge of Namibia Rugby Limited.
The Namibia Rugby Union registered Namibia Rugby (Pvt) Limited last year as a vehicle to attract sponsors to the investment-starved sport, but things have not gone according to plan with the future survival and relevance of the union now under the spotlight.
The union now relies on gate takings and rental fees it receives for events hosted at the Dr Hage Geingob Stadium, which belongs to the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service.
The desperate financial position of the union was highlighted last month when its three staff members were paid half of their salaries after former benefactors World Rugby, Namibia Breweries Limited and FNB Namibia changed their allegiance to NRL.
The Windhoek Observer is reliably informed that World Rugby paid N$23 million into the coffers of NRL for the 2018/2019 season while NBL is said to have given NRL N$6 million as part of its sponsorship agreement.
FNB’s sponsorship towards NRL is still to be disclosed.
“Last month I had to pay only half of the salaries of the three staff members because there is no money at the union. I used the money from rent to pay salaries of the employees,” Mensah said.
“Imagine these are people with homes to pay and kids to feed. These employees even have to use their own phones to call because the agreement between the union and Paratus ended. Even the cars sponsored by Pupkewitz are with NRL.”
Mensah warned that union employees might not be paid this month because there is no money.
“Since I took over the office I have not seen funding from the Namibia Sports Commission (NSC). The union was even summoned by some creditors, but I told them that they should wait as I am busy checking the financial reports of the union.”
The Namibian Rugby Sevens team that competed at the Rugby Africa's Sevens tournament that was held in Tunisia between 13 and 14 October did not have jerseys to wear and the union was forced to use old kits.
“The team did not even have proper or new jerseys. We had to put white blocks on the old sponsor. There was no money to buy tracksuits for the players. We just had to go to Tunisia because Rugby Africa would have fined us N$35,000 as they are the ones responsible for paying flights and accommodation,” Mensah.
World Rugby Senior Communications Manager, Philip Wilkinson, told the Windhoek Observer last week that they are fully aware of the tension between NRU and NRL.
He, however, could not confirm or deny if they had paid N$23 million into the coffers of NRL instead of NRU.
“At this point we do not wish to go into details on the record. We are aware of the current challenges with the Namibia Rugby Union and are partnering with Rugby Africa to address any apparent issues where required,” Wilkinson said.
“Our top priority is supporting the Namibia Rugby Union to prepare the Welwetschias for next year’s Rugby World Cup in the best-possible shape and our high performance investment in that regard is ring-fenced.”
He added that they are confident that any issues will be resolved and there will be no impact on Rugby World Cup 2019.
Contacted for comment, Basson said he will not discuss their differences with the union in the media.
“At this juncture, we will not respond to the issues in the media. We would rather try to resolve the issues with the NRU through discussions,” he said.
Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service, Erastus Uutoni, said the line ministry has no plans of dissolving the NRU or the NRL despite confusion regarding which body is responsible for running the affairs of rugby in the country.
“It is not a question of dissolving, but a matter of bringing the two parties together to see where the problem is. We have already met (minister, NRU and NRU) some time ago and we are now waiting for a feedback from the two parties so that we can come up with a solution,” Uutoni said.