Questions…more questions

Sunday 2 October

Iron Lady. Phindi Kema is taking on the big guns.

Allegations of collusion, price-fixing and bullying between Gold Circle and Phumelela are amongst various aspects of a wide-ranging complaint to Government via the Competition Commission initiated by an Eastern Cape thoroughbred breeder. In a separate letter to the Minister Of Sport, the complainant also makes the damning allegation that the industry has failed to transform.

The awful shattering of the peace and a fly in the cornflakes on a beautiful Sunday morning for our leaders. ‘Probe into horseracing’ screamed the Sunday Times headline that greeted readers today as the sport of kings in South Africa reeled under the body blow of the revelation of a pending investigation by the Competition Commission.

There have been far more questions than answers in many spheres of the sport in recent years, particularly following corporatisation, and there are no doubt many who will welcome the investigation that will follow. A large percentage of the concerns and doubts are close to the heart of many in the know, and have been well captured by recent communications to our mailbag from amongst others, vocal critic and longstanding owner and trainer Ian Jayes, owner Joe Van Streepen and knowledgeable racing man and legal eagle, Advocate Brett Maselle. Their recent letters may be accessed in our Mailbag section.

The Sunday Times article lists the complainant as businesswoman and founder of Africa Race International(ARI), Phindi Kema, who recently made an unsuccessful offer to buy Arlington Racecourse. ARI was established to promote horseracing in Africa and raise the profile of African racing internationally.Both the Competition Commission and Phumelela acknowledged that they were aware of Kema’s complaint.

Kema appears little known in racing circles nationally and acquired Elandskraal Stud in 2007. According to the ARI facebook page,she ‘made waves’ at the 2007 national yearling sale as the first black person to breed horses commercially in South Africa. She started working on her ideas for ARI soon thereafter. Apparently three years of frustrating negotiations to try to purchase the farm from Land Affairs, saw her deciding rather to use her strategic position in the industry together with the experience gained, to establish an international horserace in Africa.

In 2008 Kema won the Herald Business Person of the Year Editor’s Choice Award, as well as the NMMU Business School and Absa Corporate Business Bank Business Person of the Year Award for her agricultural enterprises in Addo. In 2008 ARI was founded, with a vision to create the biggest thoroughbred horseracing event in Africa. The annual race, with a ‘staggering R25 million’ in stakes would take place in Plettenberg Bay. This, frankly, immediately raises credibility issues as there is no racecourse in the seaside resort.

The marketing blurb claims that Kema’s ‘latest coup’ for ARI, was the signing of a strategic partnership with the UK listed International Racecourse Management Ltd (IRM). IRM is credited with establishing world class horse racing events internationally. ARI has also appointed Michael Fenton to their board. Fenton is the former CEO of the Qatar Racing Authority and former Protea cricketer Makhaya Ntini also joined the board.

Phumelela and Gold Circle will hopefully resist the temptation to discredit the complainant and duck the real issues. They really should embrace and welcome the opportunity to answer the questions, right the wrongs where applicable and ultimately clear the sport’s tarnished image. But past experience tells us different.

We wait with great interest.

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