The year 2017 will go down in the country’s history as the best ever in terms of construction of stadiums.
It started with the opening of the Chinese-government funded Bingu National Stadium (BNS) in Lilongwe on January 28, months after missing several deadlines.
President Peter Mutharika presided over the opening ceremony, which included activities such as a friendly match between Malawi national football team and Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F.
But, by that time, crowd-pullers Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers had unofficially inaugurated the modern facility in a Luso TV Bus Ipite Bonanza match.
BNS went on to host high profile matches, including the Flames’ African Nations Championship match against Madagascar and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations group qualifying match against the Comoros Islands.
A nearly pre-season declaration by the Football Association of Malawi (Fam) that Blantyre’s Kamuzu Stadium was not fit to host matches for the 2017 season affected Bullets and Wanderers.
This did not go down well with both teams’ supporters, who, in a rare show of unity and solidarity, jointly wrote the government, threatening unspecified action if the age-old football arena was not re-opened.
Fam acknowledged the concerns raised by the teams but maintained that Kamuzu Stadium could not be re-opened until rehabilitation works had taken place.
“Players’ and supporters’ safety is of paramount importance. We cannot compromise on issues of safety and security,” Fam Club Licensing and Transfer Matching Systems Manager, Casper Jangale, said at the time.
Promises by the government to have the stadium ready for use by the league’s second-round never came to fruition.
The then minister of Sports, Henry Mussa, pledged to have Kamuzu Stadium ready for use by September, but nothing materialised despite Parliament allocating K1.5 billion for the rehabilitation exercise.
The closure of the historical stadium forced Wanderers to opt for Balaka Stadium, with Blantyre United and Premier Bet Wizards settling for newly-constructed Mulanje Park Stadium.
Bullets settled for Chilomoni and Kalulu stadiums for their home matches. Azam Tigers also banked on Chilomoni Stadium.
The shortage of match venues, no doubt, meant that teams incurred extra expenses on transport.
Practically, this meant that Blantyre teams were always on the road for their home and away matches.
It also meant that Blantyre fans were deprived of Super League and national team action.
Now, the government is facing a race against time to ensure that the stadium is ready for use next season.
One of the major concerns dogging the rehabilitation project is the fact that the artificial turf is taking too long to be delivered to the stadium.
Three weeks ago, incumbent Sports Minister, Francis Kasaila, told the media that the turf was in Beira, Mozambique, enroute to Malawi.
But one wonders how many days it takes for a truck to travel between Beira and Blantyre.
It is even more distressing to hear from Mutharika that the turf will only be in the country next month. To be continued
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