Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM) general secretary, Frank Chitembeya is allegedly demanding a bizarre fee of R1,000 (about K50,000) to issue a clearance letter to enable Malawian athlete Imran Paya to race in South Africa’s Comrades Ultra Marathon scheduled for May.
Imran Paya, who is from Mbulumbudzi in Chiradzulu District but left for greener pastures in South Africa where he took up running as a sport, has been participating in the 90km Comrades Ultra Marathon since 2011 but registration regulations for this year’s event have changed where all foreign athletes should only take part if they are cleared by their home countries’ athletics board.
Upon contacting Chitembeya to ask for the clearance letter after submitting proof of his Malawian citizenship through copy of his particulars on his passport page and an honours list of his awards, Chitembeya informed Paya that his club was expected to pay the 1,000 rands.
This bewildered Paya who sought for more explanation from Malawi National Council of Sports’ Administration Manager, Henry Mereka as on what basis the payment was taken from, who is also reported to have been taken aback.
Paya then decided to inform this reporter of the bizarre request and when contacted for an explanation, Sports Council Executive Secretary, George Jana said: “This is a new thing to me as I have never encountered it. In fact, I have not in the past had any athlete seek clearance to compete in a race.
“Of course in changing times, participants in marathons, especially or any strong brand competitions have to pay to the organizers to compete in that race.
“Similarly boxers, through their promoters will pay a fee to the local mother body a fee to be allowed to participate in a bout elsewhere. May be it is from that front that AAM is requesting the athlete to pay.
“This said, the rule or requirement must have first been made as a policy passed by the organization’s general assembly before implementation and with reasons as to why that should be so complete with the amount that would be decided on the basis of something. That is, am not sure why it is not 2,000 rands or 200 rands or 500 rands or even 20 rands.
“The idea of payment of a fee is not entirely wrong but needs to have a basis that must cover different scenarios i.e: if the athlete is a registered paid up member or not etc.
“Is he to run in the race representing Malawi or as an individual athlete? Why are the race organizers looking for clearance from the home association? Kindly find this out and advise because it could be they are also ensuring to pass the risk of any eventuality to the home association. It is a disclaimer of some sort and for the local association to that risk, they too have to have some compensation.”
Then Chitembeya went on to contact the athlete’s club, by sending a clearance letter and an accompanying demand for the 1,000 rands. However, the letter of clearance he sent had a different name of Peter Chiwaya and not Imran Paya
When brought to his attention by the reporter to clear the air, Chitembeya was just adamant and his response to me as a journalist trying to verify where it is being based on.
“You are free to publish it. Even clubs here affiliate. Have you ever seen a player being cleared free. You seem to be living in the past than present.
“Sports is a business where institutions/people invest a lot. Why do they need clearance?”
However, the club, RCS Gugulethu AC captain Nceba Xipu has since asked Chitembeya to furnish them with an official request.
“Thank you for your response. Please send the request for payment from an official letter with the association letterhead. I will then forward to Athletics South Africa and get clarification whether this is standard practice to pay for athletes’ clearance.
“As a club, we are not in the position to make the payment and will request the athlete involved to make the payment himself. We just need an official letter,” Xipu said in the letter.
Although Paya runs competitively, he has a job at a Masjid where he assists the Sheikh in teaching at an Islamic school. He says the pay helps him meet costs for his races such as entry fees, food supplements and running kits because he doesn’t have any substantial sponsor.
“I have done countless road races ranging from 10km, 15km, 21km, 30km and full 42km (marathons) since 2008. I started taking part in Ultras in 2010, which was the Old Mutual Two Oceans ultra marathon (56km), which I have completed for nine consecutive years — going for my 10th this coming April.
“That was after I did my very first marathon (42km) in 2009, which gave me confidence to consider taking up ultra marathon races. So I have also been taking part in Trail (mountains) races since 2015, which Edson Kumwamba is fond of and the longest I have done in the mountains is 100km race.”
Going forward he says after living in South Africa for such a long time he has the passion to settle back at home one day and perhaps establish an athletics club where he can pass on his many years of experience to Malawian youths.
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