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Knowles questions two percent for sports

In addition to regular subvention and grants for national sporting federations, Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) President Romell Knowles is also reminding the government of the two percent stake in escrow from the sale of BTC in 2011 that was initially said to be for youth, sports and cultural development.

He reiterated that this not a time for athletes or national sporting federations to be experiencing a reduction in funds allocated to them. If anything, he said, they should be compensated more, particularly in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which has been pushed to the summer of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The postponed Olympics is now set for July 23 to August 8, 2021, still in Tokyo, Japan.

“What ever happened to that two percent from the sale of BTC? We don’t want the government to forget about that,” said Knowles. “Over the years, national sporting federations have suffered greatly in the reduction of financial assistance from the government. It has been very hard on national sporting federations to continue to build programs and produce athletes who are world beaters because of the reduction. In terms of subvention, that should not be up for consideration to be reduced, particularly in an Olympic year.

“Given the challenges of COVID-19 and the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, which the Bahamas Olympic Committee supports, athletes will now have to endure an additional 12 months of expenses, to prepare and be ready to compete on the largest sports stage in the world – the Olympic Games. Our athletes have proven their worth over the years. Today, we have two of the most outstanding track athletes in the world – Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner, and there are many others who are Olympic hopefuls. The government needs to reconsider the reduction in athletes’ subvention.”

Subvention to athletes for the current period is set at $1,076,920, down from $1,346,150 for the 2019-2020 fiscal period -– a cut of 20 percent, almost $300,000. Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle said in her contribution to the 2020-2021 national budget in the House of Assembly last month that elite athletes won’t be impacted by the reduction, but Knowles is not convinced, stating that the contrary appears to be the case.

In terms of grants for federations, at one point it was at $80,000 per annum depending on their tier level. Today all major sports federations receive about $25,000 per year. Knowles said that the two percent share in the BTC sale should have complemented the grants that are distributed to sporting federations for youth activities, sports and other cultural and educational events.

“We should not be seeing a reduction, but rather an increase in what was promised,” said Knowles. “The benefits of sports to The Bahamas are endless. Today, there are thousands of Bahamian athletes who are on scholarships. I want to encourage the government to continue to promote and develop sports as a tool for tourism, a tool for healthy lifestyles and practices and to complement sports financially.”

Knowles is requesting a meeting with the powers that be in an attempt to find avenues where grants for national federations could be restored to the top tier level, to reach an agreement that athletes’ subvention will not be reduced so that they could continue about their business of preparation and development to represent The Bahamas internationally, and to discuss the two percent stake from the sale of BTC for youth, sports and cultural development.

BTC was sold by the Free National Movement (FNM) Government to Cable and Wireless in 2011 following years of other bids falling short and privatization measures not materializing. At the time of the sale Cable and Wireless was said take a 49 percent stake, 49 percent control would remain with the government and the Bahamian people and two percent would go in escrow for youth, sports and cultural development.

The sale price was later revealed at $210 million, meaning that the two percent in escrow, at the time, would have been worth about $4.29 million.

Minister Rolle has said that the government does not intend to ignore or neglect their commitment to deserving Bahamian athletes, and that sports remains a priority item of the current central administration.

The sports ministry, on the whole, was one of the hardest hit in the national budget allocation, suffering more than a $5 million reduction.

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