The 2019 netball season was probably one of the toughest in the history of Malawi National Netball Team, the Queens. Despite a myriad of challenges. they fought with valour to salvage their pride on the international stage.
The odds were heavily stacked against them at the beginning of the season when Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) and the government engaged in a blame game over who caused the delays to start camp training ahead of the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England in July.
And news of the Queens’ historic plunge from sixth to ninth position on International Netball Federation (INF) world netball rankings, released on July 1, worsened the situation as that meant the national team was in danger of losing automatic qualification to prestigious events such as the next Netball World Cup and the Fast5 World Netball Series.
Sensing danger, former Queens coach Griffin ‘Zagalo’ Saenda sounded the alarm in early February, saying the delay to start preparations for the 2019 World Cup was spoiling his training programme and that this was putting the national team in an awkward situation.
“I am really worried with the delay because, according to my programme, we could have been at an advanced stage of our preparations by now. However, my hands are tied because NAM says there is no funding,” he told The Nation four months to the event.
Despite the appeal, NAM and the government continued their finger-pointing on who was causing the delay until the Queens finally camped weeks before the global showpiece.
It was a terrible experience for the national team, who were already missing the services of free-scoring Australia-based shooter Mwawi Kumwenda due to injury, as the technical panel had little time to build the squad.
Yet, with all the challenges along the way, the Queens defied the odds to finish sixth at the World Cup, beating teams such as Uganda and Ireland, who had overtaken them in the July rankings. It was not surprising, therefore, that two months later they moved two steps up to seventh on the world rankings.
In the run up to the African Netball Championship in South Africa in October, NAM made changes to the Queens’ technical panel, replacing Saenda with national team legend Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa as head coach and maintained assistant coach Whyte Mlilima.
Chawinga-Kaluwa made changes to the squad, dropping former captain Joana Kachilika, Thandi Galeta and Alinafe Kamwala, to create space for seasoned Beatrice Mpinganjira and Jessica Mazengera-Sanudi.
At the continental championship, they narrowly lost 56-51 to eventual champions and higher ranked South Africa before beating sixth-ranked dethroned champions Uganda and Zimbabwe to finish as runners-up, a position they have held since 2013 when they surrendered the number one spot in Africa to South Africa with a narrow 54-52 defeat in a final Malawi hosted.
Nevertheless, although the desired result at the latest continental event was to bask in ultimate glory, the runner-up finish was not bad considering the challenges they went through.
However, news that the Queens have maintained seventh position in the latest rankings’ should be a food for thought for stakeholders to improve on Queens’ support considering that it is only teams within the top-six bracket that earn automatic qualification to prestigious competitions such as the Netball World Cup and the Fast5 World Netball Series.
The fact that Malawi had the oldest squad at the recent seven-team African championship with an average age of 29.6, two ahead of second oldest Uganda, should ring a bell in the government, NAM and the technical panel that there is a need to have a vibrant youth development programme for the national team to tick at the forthcoming 2023 Netball World Cup and 2022 Commonwealth Games.