There is a saying that a new broom sweeps clean. Expectations are always high among the sports fraternity when a new Minister of Youth and Sports is appointed in the country.
Surely, the appointment of Ulemu Msungama as new Minister of Youth and Sports could be good news for the sports fraternity. Although there is mixed feeling among sports associations on his appointment but majority are hoping that Msungama would bring change, which is mostly a challenge in the government set up.
Msungama alongside other cabinet ministers were sworn in at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe last week Friday-marking new beginning in the sports sector. But there is no honeymoon for the new minister as he has a daunting task to win the confidence of the glory-starved Malawians.
This is because previous ministers deliberately chose to do things in their own ways. This week many sports associations have already spoken about their expectations from the new minister.
The sports fraternity is anxiously waiting to see if Msungama will hit the ground running instead of usual familiarisation tours in sports associations, spending tax payers money.
His main task should be to advocate for improved funding for sports associations such as Football Association of Malawi (Fam) and Netball Association of Malawi (Nam). The two associations rely on government funding for major international competitions. But government is fond of releasing funds at the eleventh hour to such associations. For all the sports associations to perform well in international competitions, they need support from both government and the private sector.
During his reign, Msungama should try to create a conducive environment for companies to invest more resources in sports. It is a fact that most companies shun from sponsoring sports due to exorbitant tax they pay to government.
Just a reminder to the minister, sports is among the sectors which have failed to see significant improvement in recent years due to lack of political will. Ministers have come and gone but without any tangible contribution apart from spending tax payers money.
Although ministerial positions are political appointments, sports is one of the sectors which needs a person with vast knowledge of the local sports set up.
To many sports fans, Msungama is new in the sports industry but he insisted that he has passion for sports in the country. Msungama said he was a fan of Lilongwe-based giants Silver Strikers. Apart from being a football fan, he says he enjoys and plays basketball.
Probably, his passion for sports underscores why President Lazarus Chakwera chose him among several potential candidates in the Tonse Alliance government. Msungama has sports background as some of his relatives such as Kondi Msungama are no strangers in the sports fraternity.
In his first interviews as Sports Minister, Msungama said his priority was to review the sports policy which advocates for mass participation.
To be honest, the implementation of sports policy in the country has been a major challenge. The sports policy was gathering dust in the corridors of Capital Hill in Lilongwe since it was launched in 2007 at Blantyre Youth Centre.
Just a reminder to Msungama, most of the sports associations operate as briefcase entities and do not have offices. His focus should not be only on football and netball but also the minority sports which have potential to put Malawi on the international map.
But his appointment has also come at a wrong time, as sports face uncertain future in many countries due to Covid-19 pandemic. Football, like many sporting disciplines, is still suspended in the country and it is not known when government will lift the ban.
Other nations in Africa have resumed sports but with restrictions such as playing behind closed doors as a precautionary measure. However, it is not easy to emulate other nations because they have huge financial muscle and teams are well sponsored compared to Malawi.
In Malawi, the recommendation from the Football Association of Malawi (Fam) Task Force and Presidential Task Force was that the game should resume in August but without spectators.
This is a big challenge for Msungama regarding local football set up where gate revenue is one of the major sources of funds for the teams. It remains to be seen if Msungama will walk the talk as Minister of Sports or he will be another flop.
The immediate past minister Francis Phiso promised a lot to the sports fraternity but achieved little if not nothing.