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Focus on July 6: Why celebrate without netball?

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BY RONALD MPASO:

The Independence Day celebrations are back and once again, the nation is looking forward to commemorating the historical event.

The day is essentially Malawi’s birthday which, under normal circumstances, should be celebrated with pomp and colour.

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To ensure that the day does not pass off just like any other, the government sets aside millions of kwacha to cater for various activities that bring Malawians together to celebrate their nationhood.

One activity that has been an important component of the celebrations is sports, which is a crowd puller.

For years, football and netball have featured side by side in entertaining Malawians during the event which has been on the national agenda since independence in 1964.

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But, of late, there have been changes in that football seems to be the only sporting activity that features on the day.

And while the tradition has been to invite football and netball national teams from elsewhere, the trend has been changing of late, with organisers opting for local football clubs to play on the day.

Last year, Nyasa Big Bullets and Silver Strikers met at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe. The organising committee at that time said there was no money to bring a foreign team into the country for a match.

Local football clubs will also be the ones to entertain Malawians in Lilongwe and Mzuzu this year, with organisers having shelved plans to bring in Zambia’s football and netball teams.

Be Forward Wanderers and Moyale will be in action at Mzuzu Stadium, where the main event will take place.

But, as has been the case since 2013, there will be no netball action on the country’s biggest day despite the game having made Malawi proud at big international competitions.

The Malawi national netball team will be playing in the African Netball Championship in Zambia next month and the World Netball Cup in England next year and they would have been a valuable addition to the celebrations.

Added to that, it has been years since sports lovers last watched the Queens in action on home soil.

The Independence Day celebrations could have been a perfect opportunity for local fans to see the team in action here at home.

Queens legend and former coach, Peace Chawinga-Kalua, said this year’s celebration was a perfect opportunity for the team to commence preparations for the two competitions.

“The team needed to play a friendly match before going to the continental competition. Netball should also be part of the Independence Day celebrations because it is also a popular sport,” Chawinga-Kalua said.

He said, having played for the Queens during Independence Day commemorations before, she finds it unfair for organisers to sideline netball from the event for the past five years.

The Queens last appeared in an Independence Day event in 2013 at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe where they played Zambia.

Netball Association of Malawi General Secretary, Carol Bapu, said playing a match during Independence Day celebrations would have helped to keep the Queens in shape for the Zambia tournament.

“But these are government matters and I would not want to say much apart from hoping that, one day, netball will feature on this big day. We would be very grateful to be considered in that way,” Bapu said.

Chairperson for the Independence Day Organising Committee’s Publicity Sub- Committee, Gideon Munthali, said plans to bring Zambia’s national football and netball teams for the event were shelved because of financial factors.

“If we had our way, we could have invited almost all sports codes to the celebration. But we just do not have enough time to accommodate every game because there will be many activities.

“We appreciate the fact that netball is a big game which has done well for Malawi on the international stage. The same applies to boxing. It would have been prudent for us to feature them as well. But activities are quite many and we may even have limited time for the football match,” Munthali said.

And when all is said and done, it would be interesting to witness an event where almost all sports codes are involved. Sport is a big constituency that the government cannot ignore.

This is why as we count down to next year’s tripartite elections, politicians have come up with various competitions, mainly football and netball, just to reach out to the masses.

An Independence Day commemoration with only football involved, and with local football clubs for that matter, falls short of the standards set by the country’s father and founder, Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

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