The Tonse Alliance administration has resolved to move the proposed indoor netball court project from Blantyre to Lilongwe on grounds that the commercial capital is suffocated with sports infrastructure projects.
Minister of Youth and Sports Ulemu Msungama confirmed the decision in an interview on Monday, saying the original plan was to have the facility in the capital city before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration shifted it to Blantyre.
Meanwhile, DPP has said it is not surprised with the decision as “the new government will always favour the Central Region when it comes to development”.
The arena, to be the first of its kind in Malawi, will have a modern court, shops and offices for netball and would also benefit other minority sports such as volleyball and basketball.
Said Msungama: “We are investing a lot in sports infrastructure in Blantyre. Remember we have made a commitment to continue with Bullets and Wanderers stadia projects. Again, we are upgrading the BAT ground and Chilomoni stadium is also based there. Blantyre is congested with sports facilities.”
Msungama said that the state-of-the-art indoor sports complex, which was set to be built at Njamba Park in Blantyre, will now be constructed in Area 48 near Bingu National Stadium (BNS).
He said relocating the indoor court to Lilongwe will also help Malawi to ably host the 2022 Africa Union Sports Council Group 5 games which will attract about 10 countries.
“With a modern stadium and netball facility in one town, we can easily host other international competitions after 2022,” he said.
But in an interview yesterday, DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira said he suspected nepotism was at play.
“We can expect more of it where the new government feels that everything else should go to the Central Region. Whoever did not see it coming was short-sighted. They will try and change everything to their advantage which is unfortunate,” he said.
Put to him that the project was originally set for Lilongwe, Mpinganjira said: “I am not aware that it was moved from Lilongwe to Blantyre. I will try to find out.”
Basketball Association of Malawi general secretary Peter Gomani welcomed the decision to relocate the netball complex to Lilongwe.
“Lilongwe is centrally located, therefore, it will help us in terms of cost-cutting when organising tournaments. We will also utilise the facility to generate revenue for the federation and government,” he said.
Volleyball Association of Malawi (VAM) general secretary Jairos Nkhoma also supported the indoor project switch while urging government to consider constructing similar facilities in Blantyre and Mzuzu in future.
“Many international events are held in Lilongwe and that will be an added advantage to have two magnificent structures in the Capital City. Initially, the Bingu Stadium was supposed to have also an indoor facility. Therefore, the construction of the indoor facility in Lilongwe will save its purpose,” he said.
Former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika promised the state-of-the art netball court in 2009, but 11 years down the line, the project is yet to start.
In the 2019/ 2020 National Budget, a total of K200 million was allocated for preliminary works of the project and mid this year the government issued a tender calling for contractors to bid for the project.
This is the second time, government is switching a major sports project between the two cities. In 2010, the late Mutharika’s government moved the BNS project from Lilongwe to Blantyre.
The decision received a barrage of criticism from opposition political parties. After Mutharika’s death, the People’s Party government shifted the project to the capital city.