Rafiq slow to pay back £10k to Sport England

AZEEM Rafiq was reluctant to repay a £10,000 government grant awarded to him to offer coaching sessions for asylum seekers in Barnsley which never took place. sports mail can reveal.

Rafiq was ordered to repay £9,960 to Sport England in October 2015 after money was transferred to his account to Barnsley Cricket Club to run the scheme. He repaid most of the money a few weeks after an initial request from Barnsley, where the former Yorkshire spinner had played after leaving Headingley, but £2,160 had already been spent in ways suggested by Sport England or the club was not foreseen.

After Barnsley pointed out the shortfall, Sport England said they would prove Rafiq’s expenses and reimburse any expenses not permitted by the terms of the grant.

Rafiq explained the discrepancy by saying he had incurred “expenditure and development costs” related to the project, which was based on providing multisport coaching to asylum seekers in Barnsley, including the purchase of equipment. As the project never got off the ground, the kit sat unused until 2018, and it is understood Rafiq then arranged for it to be shipped to Pakistan for use by underprivileged children.

Hometown: Rafiq in Barnsley

Sport England accepted Rafiq’s explanation and concluded that neither party had acted in bad faith, but Barnsley remained unhappy that the local community did not benefit from government money as intended. The grant agreement seen by sports mail clarifies that a maximum of £1,800 could be spent on kit, of which £260 had to be spent on football kit as it was a multi-sport grant.

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Sport England confirmed this sports mail yesterday that £7,800 of the grant had been returned, but described the matter as “contrary to recommended best practice”, for which they blamed Barnsley.

“We can confirm that in 2015 £9,960 was paid to Barnsley Cricket Club for the provision of a cricket training programme,” said a spokesman. “The club then signed a third party [Rafiq] to deliver the program and paid them the award in advance. This is at odds with the best practices for grant recipients recommended by Sport England.

“Subsequently, the third party proactively contacted Sport England to let us know that they would not be able to deliver the program as they had taken on a different role. This communication is usually the responsibility of the grantee. The premium was paid back in full via the third party, less development costs and expenses incurred.

Letting it all out: Rafiq testified before the Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year

Barnsley denies Sport England’s claim that Rafiq was proactive in raising the issue. Emails seen by sports mail reveal that Rafiq first contacted Sport England senior grants manager David Kennedy on 11 November 2015, 17 days after Barnsley first asked him to return the money, a request he confirmed on the same day.

However, subsequent emails from the club as to when the money would be returned went unanswered. On November 10, 2015, Barnsley sent Rafiq a final demand, which included a threat to report the matter if the money was not returned within three days.

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“17 days have passed since Barnsley CC made its first request for you to return the money to the club,” Barnsley wrote. “It is the club’s intention to return the money to Sport England as the club believe the project cannot be carried out to the terms set out in the award.

‘Unfortunately, despite two requests, the money has still not been refunded. The club have now decided the only option is to set a deadline of Friday 13 November. If the money is not refunded, unfortunately the matter must be reported.’

Rafiq paid most of the money back to Sport England a few days later but £2,160 had been spent. Barnsley CC shared their concerns with Sport England and received the following email on 16 November 2015: “We have received the first repayment of funds from Mr Rafiq. He will account for what he has spent and we will calculate what is legal and what is not and track him for anything that is not legal.’

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