While athlete Asimenye Simwaka was Team Malawi’s last hope for a Commonwealth Games medal at the Birmingham event, the Malawi Defence Force athlete claims that her performance in the 400m final was hampered by excessive online abuse she suffered from her countrymen shortly before the game.
Simwaka’s performance was allegedly affected by the taunts she suffered from various athletics WhatsApp fora before the final.
The abuse targeted her gender, team selection, stature and performance.
Opening up for the first time, Simwaka, who became the first Malawian to reach the final of 400m at the games, said she was discouraged.
“It was not the first time that I have been a victim of abuse online. Ever since I started representing the country, I have been targeted. This time, it also happened and it was worse. At a time I was concentrating on the final, others were busy disturbing me,” she said.
Simwaka said, at times, she feels like giving up on the sport.
“It is painful because some of them are retired athletes and officials. They talk a lot, questioning how I run. They also claim that my performance is not real because officials handpick me.
“Instead of encouraging me, they choose to frustrate my efforts. There are times I feel like giving up but, then, I let it go. I am happy with how God created me and I do not wish to become someone else,” Simwaka, who also reached the semifinals of 200m, said.
Following the taunts, Simwaka nowadays is hardly on WhatsApp forums.
“It is better to use the time doing something valuable than be subjected to mockery. However, I do not wish to take the issue further because I think I can lose focus,” she said.
Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM) General Secretary Frank Chitembeya confirmed that Simwaka was a subject of social abuse as some people in the athletics sector were against the top performing athlete.
“It is true that some [people] within the system are not happy with her achievements. I was accused of handpicking her for Olympic Games and other events. This was also one of the reasons that led to my suspension.
“However, let us admit here, Simwaka is a rare gem. She impressed on her debut in February, 2020, when she won the 10,000 cross-country [race]. Since that time, she has been breaking records,” he said.
Chitembeya said the association will come up with ways to end social media abuse.
Meanwhile, Malawi Olympic Committee (Moc) President Jappie Mhango has said it was a learning point.
“I think we should also consider engaging psychologists. I was of the view that Simwaka could have won a medal had it not been for outside forces. Besides the taunts, the pressure was also too much on her. Maybe psychologists could have helped,” he said.
Information Communication Technology Association of Malawi (Ictam) President Bram Fudzulani has said bullying is an offence under the Electronic Transactions Act of 2016.
“They can engage a legal expert who can advise them on the best way out of this,” he said.