The year just ended has been a mixed bag of both good and bad surprises for minority sports in Malawi.
Draughts is one of the few minority sports disciplines that showed great potential of putting the country on the international map in the face of financial challenges Malawi sports is experiencing in general.
Team Malawi won the inaugural African Draughts-64 Championship in Zambia in July following the individual brilliance of Moses Winesi and the country’s highest rated player Enock Makoka-Banda, whose combined effort as runner-up and third-placed players, respectively earned Malawi the top rank at the seven-nation event.
This was quite a relief for Malawi, who lost the event’s hosting rights due to failure to meet a minimum budget of K4 million. Malawi was initially selected to host the continental event following the outstanding performance of Makoka-Banda at the 2015 World Draughts Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he emerged as the best African player.
In chess, South Africa-based gladiator Joseph Mwale was Malawi’s face saver after becoming the best player of the 2015/2016 season at Glenwood Chess Club for winning five of the six tournaments he participated in. He won gold during the Inter-regional championship in Cape Town.
It was also an achievement that Malawi managed to improve its standing on the world rankings by three steps in both men and ladies’ categories following a brave performance at the World Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. Despite missing the first two rounds of the contest due to flight delays, the 10-player Malawi squad moved to position 128 out of 180 countries in men’s category and 124 out of 146 in ladies’ section.
But, generally, it has been a tough year for Malawi chess players considering that both domestic open competitions Mdina Business Solutions and Muleso-Mphande Championship went to Zambians Godwin Phiri and Chitumbo Mwali, in that order. The revival of club chess competitions through Kumudzi Centre sponsorship might help to improve the game.
United States (US)-based lawn tennis player Chisomo Lumeta was another individual that deserves kudos for putting Malawi on the map; he was twice named player of the week during that country’s National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) Tennis Championship.
Back home, life on the tennis court has been tough for local male players as they failed to win the Malawi Open Championship for the seventh consecutive time while Zambian Edgar Kazembe won his sixth title. In the ladies’ section, where only local players competed, Mary Luhanga defended her title after beating former champion Patricia Matola-Mlomba.
In hockey, Zambia club Lusaka Sharks taught Malawi top clubs a bitter lesson when their men’s team beat Nyala 6-0, domestic champions Genetrix 2-0, Braves 2-0 and Scorpions 1-0. The club’s ladies’ side also triumphed 6-0, 2-0 and 4-0 against Genetrix Ladies, Braves Ladies and a select team respectively. But with continued sponsorship from FMB and Monolux Paints, things might be better next year.
Within the year, we also experienced the revival of the rugby team, which had been in oblivion for 24 years. And we could not expect a lot from the national team as they lost to Lesotho in a test international match in Blantyre.
Despite that, it was Team Malawi’s performance at the 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympics Games in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil that attracted the world’s attention. The country’s five representative at the Olympics, swimmers Brave Lifa and Amara Pinto, runners Kefas Chitsala and Tereza Master alongside archer David Areneo returned home empty-handed while Paralympics’ ambassador visually-impaired athlete Taonere Banda got disqualified for not using a recommended lane.
The athletes went to the games on solidarity after failing to make it through qualification and the developments prompted British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) satirist Ikenna Azuike to mock Malawi’s lacklustre performance through his television programme titled ‘What’s up Africa: Is Malawi Too Good To Win Medals?’
“The 2016 Olympics are over and unfortunately, Malawi did not win a medal again! …so where is Malawi going wrong? The reasons are obvious; no cheating, no doping. They just train! In recent years, not a single Malawian track athlete has been caught doping. If you want to win an Olympic medal these days, you have to play dirty,” he narrated.
Regardless, Malawi athletes made some strides in competitions within the continent. During the Africa Olympic Day Marathon in Maputo, Mozambique, an eight-athlete squad swept seven medals; two gold through 400m runner Cecilia Mhango and 400m T-13 Paralympics athlete Prisca Kachule. Harry Sichale, Rodwell Kamwendo and Doris Fischer brought home silver each whereas Nancy Matanda and Alinafe Puwa took bronze.
We also experienced the reinvigoration of basketball through financial backing from GY Imports and Exports, who came with sponsorship for Brave Hearts Basketball team to travel to Tanzania for international exposure. They also bankrolled an all-stars national championship. n