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26th April 2018

Bellamy's Football Academy Shuts Down Suddenly in Sierra Leone!!!

By Martyn Ziegler (20/04/17)

Craig Bellamy’s foundation is being examined by the Charity Commission after the sudden closure of its academy in Sierra Leone.

Craig Bellamy has appointed a legal team to investigate possible irregularities in the management of his financial affairs in Sierra Leone amid claims that teenage boys have been left living in pitiful conditions as footballer’s academy in Sierra Leone shuts without warning. (Pictured: Bellamy posed with his young footballers at the Tombo academy grounds.

Two former staff members have alleged that four of the boys from the academy are now sharing a single room without furniture or sanitary facilities, and that no proper plan was made to look after their future after it was shut without warning in September.

A statement from Bellamy’s solicitor said that the former Wales international, who played for ten clubs including Manchester City and Liverpool, has appointed a legal team to investigate possible irregularities in the management of his financial affairs.

A commission spokesperson told The Times: “I can confirm that concerns have been raised with us about The Craig Bellamy Foundation and the closure of its academy in Sierra Leone. We are assessing these concerns to determine what, if any, role there might be for the commission.

“As part of our engagement, we are reminding trustees of their duty to file outstanding financial accounts. Trustees must account to the public and donors for their income and expenditure and the failure to do so may give rise to concerns about the governance and administration of a charity.”

The academy was set up in Tombo, a small fishing village two hours’ drive from Freetown, the capital. At its height, there were 35 promising players from across Sierra Leone living there and studying at its school. The foundation also created a youth league which, at one point, helped about 2,400 boys and girls.

Former staff members and volunteers say that, while Bellamy deserves much credit for putting hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money into his foundation, not enough attention was given to developing a structure that would make it sustainable.

A statement from Bellamy’s solicitor said: “Mr Bellamy has recently appointed a new legal team to investigate any irregularities in the management of his financial affairs. These investigations are ongoing and we therefore cannot comment further at this stage on any specific allegation.

“His legal team will assist all government agencies in their investigations and, if necessary, his legal team will take action against those responsible for any wrongdoing.”

The foundation’s trustees have also been sent a default notice by the Charity Commission because its accounts are 343 days overdue. Only two years of accounts have been registered since the academy opened in September 2010. The foundation was registered as a charity in June 2011 and the first accounts submitted in March 2014.

The league closed in mid-2014 after the Ebola outbreak but local staff kept the academy going until September 2016, when they were informed it would not reopen after the summer holidays. Six months on, and the conditions some of the boys are now living in has alarmed former staff members.

One locally-based person said: “It was sad when the academy closed but what is heartbreaking is to see the state that the boys are left in.”

He claimed that “four of the boys are living in a rundown part of Freetown sharing a small single room. There is no toilet or cooking facilities and just one mattress on the floor which they share. None of them are at school any more, they can’t find work, and they feel they can’t return to their families.”

The Times has spoken to four former staff members and volunteers, and a former sponsor, who have all spoken of their frustration that the foundation did not operate on a structured basis. They say a proper plan should have been drawn up to attract sponsors and develop income streams so that it was not reliant on Bellamy’s own money.

The foundation had three trustees - Bellamy, Phil Baker, his former business adviser who former staff members say handled most of the administration, and Ian Davis, who said he had little involvement in its operation.

Baker did not respond to questions from The Times apart from to say that he was “no longer a trustee” and directed inquiries to Bellamy. Criticisms from former staff and volunteers include:

● Potential sponsors were deterred by a lack of accounts and annual reports from the foundation.

● Despite urgings, no trustees experienced in running charities were added to the foundation’s three-man board.

● No plan was put in place to secure the future of the teenage boys who had been expecting to return to the academy, apart from an £800 cash payment from a local company.

● The accounts that have been filed show £4,250 was spent on a fundraising trip to Singapore by an unnamed trustee. Former staff have questioned whether that was money well spent.

One expatriate former volunteer said: “For the first few years the foundation trustees did not publish any accounts or annual reports, which is a basic requirement for a charity and a necessity to receive money from funding bodies. We were able to raise some through local companies but we nearly lost a $50,000 donation from an international company due to lack of financial accounts. We managed to get draft accounts, which just satisfied them.

“It felt like we were constantly saying, ‘Get more experienced trustees, get your accounts sorted, and get an annual report if you want to be a sustainable organisation.’ We found them an ideal person to be a trustee who had 20 years’ experience in the field, but the proposal was never responded to.

“It was frustrating as there was so much potential. The project reached thousands of children across Sierra Leone and had a really positive impact on local communities. I don’t think the Ebola crisis caused the academy to close but it did expose what the problems were when the money ran out.

“What’s most disappointing was the lack of exit strategy and how poorly thought-through the academy closure was. It was not done in a responsible way and has left the boys in a sad and difficult position.”

A volunteer teacher at the academy said: “The organisation seemed very ad hoc. Nothing was planned. They had made promises to these boys from all around Sierra Leone of a five-year scholarship and so they had raised their expectations massively. They signed up for five years of football and education and were not allowed to join other academies, yet the foundation’s side of the bargain was not fulfilled.”

A British-based sponsor who provided more than £2,000 to the foundation said that the Ebola crisis in 2014 had exposed the foundation’s weaknesses. The sponsor, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “I am sure it was all done with the best intentions but the governance always seemed to me to be amateurish.

“The Ebola outbreak exposed the problems that it had never been set up in a sustainable way, where it could raise enough to keep going as a charity.

“It has taken boys with promise and shown them a glimpse of what might happen and then let them down. Just giving them a sum of money, I think, is a ridiculous thing to do when you know they are only youngsters.”

Courtesy: Martyn Ziegler, Chief Sports Reporter March 9, 2017, The Times London


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