Flora Mwandira is a retired secondary school teacher, but a prolific sports administrator. She is an only female executive member of the Football Association of Malawi (FAM). She is also vice-president of Malawi Olympic Committee (MOC), Confederation of African Football (CAF) match commissioner, Fifa football instructor and one of the two people who founded women. Caroline Somanje finds out her passion and drive.
Who is Flora Mwandira?
I am a former teacher who recently opted to retire after serving for more than 20 years in government. I am the last born in a family of four children; two males and two females. I was brought up with encouragement from my family to do well in school. After completing teacher training, I got married to Roosevelt Mwandira. We have six Children; two boys and four girls. I have always lived in Blantyre.
What is your education background?
I went to Mzimba Local Education Authority [LEA] School and did my secondary education at Mzuzu Secondary School. I attended Lilongwe Teachers Training College and after teaching in primary school, I upgraded to teach at secondary school by enrolling with Domasi College of Education for a Diploma in Physical Education and Biology. I also have diplomas in advanced sports management and administration from the International Olympic Committee (IOC); and advanced sports science and business management Diploma from University of Pretoria through the Malawi National Sports Council (MNSC) and Futuro football administration and management with Fifa.
What inspired your interest in sports?
When I was in primary School, my school was doing very well in different sports. I was in the school netball team. In those days, football and netball were competed alongside each other. Everyone watched and supported netball first and later moved to football. I travelled in most districts in the North as a netballer. I later joined the college netball team in Lilongwe.
My husband loves football so much. He used to take me to watch the game at BAT and Kamuzu Stadium. We never missed any International Matches. He once managed Nico Football Club at its peak and he has been a Blantyre and Districts Football Leagues (BDFL) general secretary, before I got involved in football administration.
The background I have in support of football plus that of my husband developed my interest.
How have you nurtured this interest?
It is all about courage and encouragement. Teachers own grassroots sports and they need to get involved practically. Those who have interest have grown with it and are a testimony to their achievements. We have so many teachers who started with teaching, but now they have grown quite big in sports.
What are some of your achievements?
I got involved in football since the inception of women’s football in Malawi in 1998. I was one of the founding members of Women’s Football Committee (WFC) as treasurer with Mrs Ennie Mphande as chairperson. I was the first general secretary of the first National Women’s Football Committee. I am the first female to sit in the FAM Executive. In 2001, I was elected president of the committee. I served my second term as an elected FAM executive member from 2007- 2011. I am currently serving as a co-opted member in the term 2011 – 2015.
In MOC, I was elected vice-president in 2010 – 2014 and re-elected. I am now serving my second term.
How did you divide your time?
I have always been determined and I properly manage my time. While involved in sports, I ably upgraded my teaching profession; hence, my teaching at Zingwangwa Secondary School.
I plan for the day and a week; and set my priorities because apart from the family, work and sports, I am also involved in church activities as a church elder, cottage executive and a member of the Women’s Guild.
Do you have a favourite sport?
I like most sport codes. After I finished school and got married, my love for football grew; hence; my involvement in the introduction of women’s football. Later, I became a football administrator. I have coached and refereed football, which has given me a lot of experience in the game. If I may say, I am more of a football person.
I am also able to follow netball. I have ably followed netball and have been associated with netball. As a woman, my involvement in football administration is a challenge.
What has been your 10-year-exeperience as an executive of FAM?
I have been part of FAM’s growth. I have received support from the executive and affiliates where I faced challenges. I am now one of the longest serving board members in FAM.
I have worked very well with my colleagues because of the respect that I have for myself and those that I work with. Of course transparency, accountability and commitment have been paramount.
The women’s football team has participated in Cosafa in 2002, 2006 and 2011. The team also participated in the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) competition in 2004.
I have been part of the Flames’ qualification to Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 2010 and looking forward to the next qualification. I am party to the introduction of Fifa Goal Project one, two and three, which has brought artificial turf at Chiwembe Technical Centre and Luwinga Technical Centre in Mzuzu. I have seen the growth of the FAM secretariat to full staff now.
I was in FAM when it sailed in troubled waters until the current President Walter Nyamilandu brought changes.
Is there hope of seeing more women in FAM executive positions?
We have been crying for a 20 percent representation in the FAM executive board so we can have at least two women. It has not been possible because of the numbers; FAM, however, included in its constitution that there will always be one woman in the executive, so there has been one woman on election. In future, two women will be possible because the constitution is now allowing the president of the National Women’s Football to be an automatic executive member and the second one will be on election. Women are now encouraged to take up leadership roles in football such that we have a few women who are in the FAM affiliates committee.
What is your goal in life?
My goal is to see more women participation in sports, create opportunities for girls and women to develop social connections with peers and mentors; assume leadership roles and grow physically, emotionally and socially through sports
What is the status of football and olympics in the country?
The status of football is good if we look at the skills Malawian players have in the field. The status is on the rise, beating Benin, Ethiopia and we are expecting good games to come. All we need to do is involve more stakeholders during competitions so that players receive necessary resources for the skill development and motivation.
Olympics are doing fairly well in the junior competition. There is hope for the future as most athletes during recent competitions improved their levels. We need a lot more experience time and resources to bring home the long awaited medals. Continuity is required, but at the same time new talent needs to be identified and nurtured in a competitive manner.
Football has not been doing particularly well for the national team. What in your opinion, is the reason?
Malawi has always had some talented players in the Flames, but we do not meet the needs of players and coaches. We need to have enough and timely financial resources to motivate the team. We also need to increase the coaching panel so that specific areas of need are manned by specific people with specific skills; for example, skilled coaches to train defenders, attackers who can be properly positioned and goalkeepers; special doctors for psychology, nutrition and physiotherapy. Of course, this requires a lot more money, but could pay dividends. Another reason is preparations are incomplete and lack of enough friendly games.
Any hope of ever reviving the sport’s lost glory?
We have hope of reviving the lost glory because our players have the talent, especially the crop we currently have. The leagues have continued cup competitions which keep players in form. If we can increase the number of sponsors and the amount of sponsorship, we will have very strong leagues.
What is your advice to women?
I would advise women to get involved in sports especially physical activities because there are more benefits, such as health and fitness. Other benefits could be that of leadership skills which can help to shape attitudes towards women as leaders and decision makers, especially in traditional male domains. Sports can foster positive images of strength, courage, victory and audacity. If one is to be a good leader, there is need for strength and confidence, self respect and a good listenership.