Malawi football has for over three decades been associated with bad stereotypes, leaving the beautiful game almost synonymous with violence, corruption and disputes especially at the club level.
Several diagnoses have been made by experts to eliminate the cancer that has slowly been eating up the little remaining integrity and positive side of the game.
The recent in-fighting at Nyasa Big Bullets at a time when they had not even completed their honeymoon with their new sponsors, Nyasa Manufacturing Company (who sponsor the club at K100 million per year), is an epitome of the chaos that reigns in Malawian football clubs.
Every season, newspapers make money by selling stories of turmoil at either Bullets or their rivals, Be Forward Wanderers. Silver Strikers also play their part sometimes.
But what is the major cause of the in-fighting in the clubs?
Lack of club ownership has been detected as Malawi football’s Achilles’ heel in an effort to run the game professionally.
Football Association of Malawi (Fam) general secretary, Suzgo Nyirenda, observed that everything could be in order if the country’s clubs had proper ownership and administrative structures.
But what has been the major challenge for clubs to fail to find owners who could run affairs of the club and control everything in order to turn the clubs into commercial entities such as South Africa’s Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs (owned by Dr Irvin Khoza and Kaizer Motaung Snr respectively)?
Pirates were on the brink of extinction in early 90s due to in-fighting, but Khoza took over full control, and Pirates went on to become one of the most successful clubs in African football, and the only South African club to win the Caf Champions League in 1995.
These two giants evolved from being clubs run by supporters to giant clubs run by reputable businessmen and forming partnerships with major companies.
Without ownership, Malawi’s football giants have become pots of gold that people could dive in and get out at any time after excavating a lot of the precious material.
Bullets’ vice-general secretary, Kelvin Moyo, observed that the major problem in Malawi is the mindset of football administrators.
“People are scared of the unknown. Club ownership is a solution to all football problems Malawi is currently facing. Supporters need to be the first to understand and propagate this, seconded by the players,” he said.
“The problem is self-interest on matters to do with the running of teams. There is also the fear of backlash from the supporters. If the fans are told the truth, they will certainly embrace it. Malawi should be the only old Fifa member that has clubs that are not owned.”
Bullets attempted to register the club as Bullets Holdings Limited several years ago, but it did not work out due to resistance from within.
While Moyo looked at the mindset, Wanderers general secretary, Mike Butao, observed that current structures of Malawian football clubs make it hard to find the best and transparent way to get ownership for the clubs.
“Ownership and sponsorship are different things. Ownership is usually done during registration of the club. We are in a fix as an executive committee to sell the club because we are just elected officials who are only at the club temporarily. Who has the authority to sell the club? The clubs are like public trusts owned by the supporters, therefore, it is not easy for an executive committee just to sell the club,” he said.
Butao further explained that the most practical way was to register the club in the name of permanent trustees who would have the authority to control matters of the club.
“As part of Club Licensing [System], one of the issues is to register the club as a legal entity. Sponsors can come in and go but the club would still be able to run some businesses and get loans. Currently the trustees have a more permanent structure, therefore, the club can be in their name. They can decide to register the team under existing structures such as Wanderers Club which owns several assets,” Butao added.
For Silver Strikers, the club has already started benefitting from a legal ownership after the club was taken over by directors that stripped supporters of power and relegated their role to just supporting the club.
This was a consequence of the supporters’ interference in running the club, often leading to in-fighting and poor performance on the pitch.
“As a limited company, the club is a legal entity which can make its own decisions. There are plans to establish a secretariat which will be involved in daily operations of the club. Recruitment of some staff has already started,” said the club’s general secretary, Chimwemwe Mkhwimba.
As clubs keep moving around the vicious circle of constant fights while the club makes no progress and owns no valuable assets, Confederation of African Football’s (Caf’s) Club Licensing System initiative seems to offer hope of club ownership and professionalism in the next few years.
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