The Bingu National Stadium (BNS) that sits majestically in Lilongwe’s Area 49 is in strips of elegance; a synthetic track surrounds the pitch which beautifully wears a well-tended natural turf.
Off the pitch, the stadium has modern dressing rooms, graceful VIP stands, excellently arranged bucket chairs in all the sitting galleries while a large video screen hangs just between the curvy roof lines.
With a capacity of about 40 000 the BNS, was widely viewed as the rebirth of modern sports infrastructural projects in the country. However, the stadium that was was completed in November last year, remains non-functional because the sewer system, authorities point out, is not fully installed.
Times without number, government has been promising to finalise the work with around K840 million which Parliament approved in June.
However, the opening ceremony dates have kept shifting at every blink of the eye. The newly set date being January 28 2017.
As the BNS is slowly turning out to be a long sad tale, that few sports fanatics would enjoy to hear or tell, it also sums up the country’s failure to improve the sports infrastructure in 2016.
By all means, this stadium was by now supposed to be generating funds through hosting of key sports events since the Kamuzu Stadium is dreadfully old and tired as the ancient Egyptian pyramids.
The evidence of its deteriorating state is there for all to see. Over five years ago, the Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) ordered the facility’s maximum capacity to be reduced from 35 000 to 25 000 upon fears that it would collapse.
Amid those glaring fears, the words from the Capital Hill have been louder than actions. Two years ago government announced plans to erect a new stadium on the same site.
“Initially, the plans were to renovate the Kamuzu Stadium. But after consultations, it was agreed that we should just build a new modern one. The renovation would have been costly,” the then Minister of Sports and Youth Grace Chiumia said.
That promise will, most assuredly, not be fulfilled in 2016 and, like the BNS or a sick person desperately in need of surgery, Kamuzu Stadium awaits its turn.
BAT Ground, owned by the government, is another facility in need of urgent attention since it resembles a potato field.
Up North, the Mzuzu Stadium is another shocker if a recent report filed by Fifa certified stadium inspector Maxwell Mtonga is anything to go by. It, among others, raises serious sanitation and security concerns.
“The perimeter fence is old and has many big holes that it is too short to stop hooligans from invading the pitch,” reads the report dated 22 August 2016, which also shows pictures of dilapidated toilets.
Mzuzu City Council promised to rehabilitate the facility but, just like the BNS, nothing seems to move.
The outcry for improved sports infrastructure is not just about football.
Central Zone Basketball League chairperson Hellen Chabunya fears that basketballhas no potential for growth if infrastructure remains poor.
“Despite having more than 10 teams our league has only Civo court at its disposal. The rest are private courts which our teams cannot afford to hire. We just hope that this problem can be addressed soon,” she says.
Netball Association of Malawi president Rosy Chinunda, who is quitting her position next year, says the lack of modern facilities has hampered the sport’s progress.
“I have been looking forward to a country that has indoor courts as earlier planned by government. The courts would have helped us to host international tournaments. However, worryingly this has not happened this year,” she states.
The Minister of Labour, Sports and Manpower Development spokesperson Simon Mvundula admitted that sports infrastructure projects stalled because the focus was on finishing the BNS.
“We know there are plans to renovate the Kamuzu Stadium and construct indoor netball courts. But with the funding challenges we decided to focus on the BNS. Once the stadium is opened we will focus on other projects,” Mvundula explains.
Until it becomes operational, the BNS, despite its modernity and high cost, is merely a huge monument of how Malawi failed to improve the sports infrastructure in 2016. n