It was supposed to be the most colourful ceremony in the netball circles this year when the OG Issa Plastics Southern Region Netball League (SRNL), the country’s oldest and biggest netball league, came to an end on Saturday.
The programme of events was appetising with a number of entertaining activities, among them the country’s top club netball fixture involving rivals Bingu Tigresses and Escom Sisters.
But in the presence of the sponsors, the day’s programme was brought to an abrupt halt due to heavy rains.
Since the country does not have a top-class indoor netball court, the trusted outdoor court at Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC), the country’s main netball arena, was soaked, making the surface unsuitable for play.
The drama that ensued exposed Malawi netball’s infrastructure poverty as the country awaits state-of-the-art indoor netball court that government has been talking about the past few years.
All spectators, save for a few VIPs on a small covered stand, deserted the court to seek refuge in the multipurpose hall.
The league’s general secretary Anne Hanjahanja looked embarrassed as she instructed the umpires to end the finals just after first quarter.
As the disappointed sponsors walked out of BYC, the netball fraternity was left to appreciate the lack of infrastructure affecting the sport in the country.
Despite Malawi being the number one team in Africa and fifth in the world, the country does not have a topnotch indoor netball facility which could have saved the situation on that fateful Saturday afternoon.
This is against the background that government, through late president Bingu wa Mutharika, made a commitment to build one in October 2006.
But six years down the line, there is nothing on the ground.
Since the idea was hatched, a lot has been said about the progress of the project such as the proposal to move the project from Blantyre’s Upper Stadium to Area 48 and cost estimation rising from K250 million (about $714 000) in 2008 to K1.2 billion last year.
But all along, it has been ‘the project will start soon’ talk from Ministry of Sports officials.
“Let me assure the nation that construction will commence soon. Everything has been finalised. The designs are ready and are with the building department in the Ministry of Transport.
“There is commitment from government on this project and the money is available, the land is available and now the designs are out. Everything is on course,” was the last comment from director of sports Jameson Ndalama on the issue made in Weekend Nation of March 12 2012, almost a year ago.
While Ndalama and other top officials who have been commenting on the issue were unreachable, Minister of Sports Enock Chihana said the plans are still in the pipeline.
“The project may take time because of government procedures. This is because of a chain of commands from the Ministry of Sports, to Lands to Finance, but the plans are still there and will see the light of the day,” he said.
He, however, gave the netball fraternity some hope when he revealed that government has negotiated with the Chinese Government to include an indoor court facility at the National Stadium under construction in Lilongwe.
“We have also agreed with the Chinese to construct another indoor court at the Kamuzu Stadium when they start rehabilitating the facility next month,” he said.
Netball Association of Malawi president Rose Chinunda said they are just waiting to hear from government on the way forward.
“But it should be noted that due to lack of such an infrastructure, we cannot host top international games or invite top teams outside of Africa to come and play. They are strict on the courts they use so that works to our disadvantage,” she said.
The late Mutharika had numerous visions, among them to see Malawi netball being played in top-class facilities.
But as he rests in peace at Ndata Farm, the country’s netball players continue to risk their lives and careers on bumpy and water-logged open courts scattered across the country.