As has been feared for years, it has been confirmed that Malawiâ€™s ceremonial home of footballâ€”the giant Kamuzu Stadiumâ€”is slowly tumbling down.
The development has forced government in consultation with the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) to postpone the Presidential Cup final between Big Bullets and Moyale Barracks that was supposed to take place this (Saturday) afternoon.
This is in contrast to the facilityâ€™s manager Charles Mhango who dismissed concerns in an interview with this reporter earlier in the week that some parts of the stands had developed cracks.
Government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports has since announced that the final showdown has been shifted to Civo Stadium in Lilongwe this coming Saturday.
The development comes barely a few days after FAM strongly opposed governmentâ€™s insistence that the final match be free of charge on security grounds.
Cracks in the stands
Youth and Sports Minister Enoch Chakufwa Chihana said following concerns that some of the stands had developed cracks while others were actually shaking, government sent civil engineers who confirmed that the giant arena is in need of urgent attention.
â€œYesterday [Friday], we sent our engineers to examine the structure and it was established that some stands have developed cracks and the Biafra stand is shaking.
â€œSo, we thought it wise that precautionary measure is better in order to avoid possible disaster,â€ said Chihana on Saturday.
The minister apologised to the soccer fraternity for the sudden development.
â€œI know people are very disappointed, but they should bear with us because their lives are of more importance; hence the move. They should find a place in their hearts to forgive us,â€ said Chihana.
He also said governmentâ€™s move was in line with a concern raised by FAM president Walter Nyamilandu that it would be a risk to host such a high-profile match at the giant stadium free of charge coming at a time when Fifa imposed a maximum sitting capacity of 32 000.
And in a statement signed by second principal secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Sports Justin Saidi, an independent structural engineer will be engaged in the shortest time possible to make as through assessment of the facility.
â€œUntil such time, the facility shall remain closed,â€ stated Saidi.
Fans safety first
Nyamilandu on Saturday hailed government for the timely move.
â€œThe closure is obviously a setback, but this was done in the best interests of the fans and Malawi football at large.
â€œThe circumstances are beyond our control and the decision that has been taken is understandable because it was not worth taking a chance.
â€œHowever, we still stick to our position that Malawi football is attracting big crowds and government should therefore reconsider its decision on free entry especially considering that Civo Stadium has low capacity compared to Kamuzu Stadium. But if they still stick to their decision then we hope they will arrange maximum security,â€ said Nyamilandu.
Sports Writers Association of Malawi (Swam) head Peter Kanjere also noted that if the final match will still be free of charge then the issue of security will not be addressed.
Both Bullets and Moyale Barracks said while they have spent a lot of money in preparations, they appreciate governmentâ€™s move.
Said Bullets chairperson Malinda Chinyama: â€œOf course we are disappointed because we spent a lot of money in preparing for the final match, but at the same time, we have to applaud government for the move.
â€œPrecaution is better other than risk potential disaster that would put lives of several people at risk.â€
The stadium was built in the 1960s.