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Mixed fortunes in sports infrastructure development

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Richard Chimwendo banda

By Tiyese Monjeza:

Malawi’s quest for growth in sports needs huge investment in infrastructure.

This has resulted in the country being unable to host big international competitions, besides struggling to provide the right standard of facilities for training its athletes.

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In Malawi, it is football that enjoys the lion’s share of sports facilities, with at least each region having a stadium.

Over the years, the government has funded construction of sports facilities in some districts in a move that is helping to ease the problem of match venues.

This has seen districts such as Kasungu, Karonga, Mulanje, Mangochi, Rumphi and Dedza hosting some TNM Super League matches over the years.

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Other districts, such as Zomba, Mzimba, Ntcheu, Thyolo and Chitipa, could soon join the fray as construction of their facilities is nearing completion after missing several deadlines.

In terms of facilities fit for hosting international competitions, the year 2022 saw Malawi adding Griffin Saenda Sports Complex and the Aquatic Sports Complex to the list, which is spearheaded by Bingu National Stadium.

The government did its part by investing billions of Kwacha in the facilities which hosted the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Games in Lilongwe last month.

The facilities were in use during the regional contest despite some doubts that construction would not be completed in time for the event.

When Minister of Sports Richard Chimwendo Banda visited the Aquatic Complex a month before the event, he assured that construction of the facility will be completed in time for the Games.

True to Chimwendo Banda’s promise, the event rolled off early December with the facilities all set, save for some final touches which continued after the closing ceremony, about two weeks later.

The sports fraternity can finally heave a sigh of relief that at, long last, the country can boast of having facilities for hosting international competitions.

But while the government deserves a pat on the back for completing construction of facilities for the Games, the story is different with district stadiums, where progress of construction continues to be hampered by erratic funding.

The projects have even stalled because the government is not releasing money to contractors working on such facilities.

For instance, construction of the 20,000-seater Thyolo Stadium, whose works commenced in 2018 with a completion deadline of 2020, is yet to be finalised.

Thyolo District Commissioner Douglas Moffat recently told the media that lack of funding affected the project.

Moffat said the project will be completed next month following a budgetary revision from K2.6 billion to K5.6 billion.

“Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority accepted our request to revise the budget to accommodate rising costs due to devaluation of the Kwacha and fuel hikes,” he said.

If indeed Moffat’s promise comes to pass, it will be a great relief to the people of Thyolo and surrounding areas as their dreams of having big teams staging matches there will come to fruition.

One can only hope that the same will apply to Zomba where construction of a 20,000-seater stadium has been progressing at a snail’s pace.

The K15 billion project started in 2017 and has missed several deadlines, forcing the old capital’s only Super League side Red Lions to play home matches in Balaka.

The project gave hope to Zomba residents that they would be watching games at a facility with enough space.

According to information sourced from Zomba City Council, the stadium was expected to be ready for use in 2019.

So unbearable are the delays to city residents that they organised demonstrations in 2020 to force the government to speed up construction works.

They finished the march by presenting a petition to the government through the council.

The residents repeated their action recently after discovering that the first march did not bear fruit.

This time they took a different approach. They summoned Zomba City Mayor Councillor Davie Maunde and contractor DEC Construction Limited’s Managing Director Daniel Tchale.

It was a demand for answers on the delays from the two sides.

Leader of the concerned fans who met Maunde at the Civic Offices, Rajab Namalaka, said there was lack of seriousness on the part of the Ministry of Local Government and Zomba City Council in completing the stadium.

“We long to watch top tier football matches but what is happening on the ground is not inspiring hope. It does seem like not much is happening. This is very unfortunate because we are being forced to travel either to Balaka or Blantyre to watch Super League games,” Namalaka said.

Tchale said they had missed several deadlines due to delays in funding.

“We wait for quite a long time to get funding for this project. This is what is delaying us. We are also looking forward to completing the project,” he said.

Maunde said they understand people’s concerns.

“We are working on facilitating a loan to fund the project so that it is completed as soon as possible. Once completed, the stadium will help us in generating revenue,” he said.

Analyst George Chiusiwa said sport has the potential of significantly contributing to the country’s development.

“The government should realise that sport is big business. It should therefore be treated as an investment. This will help the country have more sport facilities. So, the government should change its approach towards sport if we are to develop in this sector.

“It does appear at times as if Central Government is not committed to providing funds for construction of sports facilities since they do not seem to notice the benefits. But things can only change if the government starts to view these facilities as tools that can significantly contribute to the country’s economy,” Chiusiwa said.

He further called for good management of sports facilities once they are constructed.

“Reports that some thieves broke into the Aquatic Complex and stole some items are quite worrisome. We also understand that there is some theft at Bingu National Stadium. This is not good for a facility that cost us lots of money. We certainly can do better in maintenance and management of our sports facilities,” Chiusiwa said.

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