Sports is a career. A lucrative one for that matter, that is if you are not in Malawi and some other countries that do not value such talent.
In countries that appreciate the importance of sports, athletes reap from their sweat handsomely.
This sees them joining the richest elite, such that they are the envy of other professions.
They cart home astronomical earnings that professionals who are highly qualified in various fields can only dream of.
To a typical Malawian athlete, getting a job is the ultimate goal as sports does not offer much to brag about.
This is a country where sport is a mere pass-time that is never taken seriously for a career worth living for.
For this reason, athletes jump on any opportunity that offers them employment even at the expense of their respective games.
One institution that has been the most attractive to athletes across the country is the Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
The military has indisputably proved to be the largest single employer of athletes in the country.
However, the athletes have not achieved or improved much after joining MDF.
This could be because the institution believes that any athlete it employs is a soldier first before being a sportsman or woman. To MDF, military duties come first for all athletes.
Therefore, soldiers who double as athletes join their colleagues in demanding assignments such as peace keeping duties in other countries.
Over the years, it has been observed that in most cases, the athletes’ performance goes down when they return from peacekeeping missions.
MDF has four TNM Super League teams, namely; Kamuzu Barracks (KB), Red Lions, Mafco and Moyale Barracks.
It also has Mafco and Lionesses as its top netball sides besides having boxing, volleyball and athletics teams in most of its units.
These teams usually poach the best players from civilian teams but the players fail to replicate the form that turned them into top stars while with the civilian sides.
Some years ago, KB signed top players such as Harvey Mkacha, Ben Hojan, Pilirani Makupe and Mustafa Salimu.
At that time, these players were among the brightest prospects of Malawi football but are now just a shadow of what they were.
There was even a time that Mkacha used to earn regular Flames call-ups before his form nosed-dived.
However, MDF spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya insists that MDF has the best structures for improvement of athletes’ performance.
“We always strive to make sure that we have the best athletes. As an institution, we do our best to provide our athletes with professional sports training under well-qualified coaches,” Chiphwanya said.
Another example of a player who is struggling after becoming a soldier is former Mighty Wanderers goalkeeper Nenani Juwaya who is now with Super League returnees Lions.
At the time of joining MDF, Juwaya was Wanderers’ first choice and was even earning national team call-ups.
However, the story is different now as he is struggling to break into Lions’ first eleven.
The Zomba-based soldiers also have Innocent Bokosi who was once a prolific striker but is now forgotten despite still being young.
Recently, there have been reports that Civo Service United striker Raphael Phiri, Ekwendeni Hammers defender Maneno Nyoni and Lusekelo Malema of Karonga United have all gone for military training.
Sports analyst George Kaudza-Masina said it was time MDF changed its approach to sports.
“MDF should try to strike a balance between one being a soldier and an athlete. The challenge with MDF is that military duties come first and sports second. As such, there is no consistency in the athletes’ performances. And again when the athletes realise that they finally have a full-time job with the assurance of a salary at the end of the month, they tend to relax.
“On a positive note, MDF has structures to help improve athletes’ performances. Athletes are given all the time and resources to train and rewards in terms of promotions. Such things are supposed to motivate the athletes to continue performing. Unfortunately, this is not happening,” Kaudza Masina said.
Mkacha, speaking in his personal capacity, said every player has high and low moments.
“I have played for KB for eight years and we have history. We won the Super League title and some cups. Whatever people are saying about our performance going down has been proved wrong,” the former Silver Strikers forward said.
Mkacha helped KB to win the league title in 2016, Carlsberg Cup in 2013 and Fisd Challenge Cup in 2017.
MDF also boasts of top boxers such as Wilson Masamba, Osgood Kayuni, Salim Chazama, Chimwemwe Chiotcha and Chrispin Moliati.
But since becoming soldiers, the fighters have never lived up to their billing in both local and international bouts.
Female boxers Anisha Bashir and Ruth Chisale also joined military last year.
Runners such as Kefasi Kasten and Francis Khanje are also soldiers.
However, sports consultant Kelvin Moyo believes MDF should not be blamed for athletes’ poor performance.