Chinese top-flight league side Jiangsu Suning has turned down a request from French League One side Olympique Lyonnais to sign Malawian women’s football icon Tabitha Chawinga.
Lyon wanted to sign Chawinga on a six-month loan deal following the indefinite suspension of all football competitions in China due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
The Malawi women’s national football team captain confirmed the development in an interview yesterday, describing it as a setback.
“A couple of weeks ago, my club’s management informed me that they were approached by Lyon officials to sign me on loan.
“They said Lyon wanted to take advantage of the coronavirus scourge in China to offer me a short-term loan deal. But authorities at my club turned down the offer,” she said.
Lyon currently top the 12-team league with 41 points from 15 matches, having won 13 and drawn two. They are yet to taste defeat.
Chawinga said her club’s justification in turning down the offer was that they anticipated the scourge would be contained before long.
“I have no problem with my club’s decision because I am contracted to them although I feel the loan move could have helped me to be match-fit ahead of national team engagements.
“So, in a way, it is somehow a setback as it is still uncertain as to when the Chinese league will resume,” she said.
Jiangsu Suning had not responded to our questionnaire yesterday.
On what she is doing to keep fit, Chawinga said she is training with Lilongwe-based national champions DD Sunshine, an outfit she sponsors.
“Of course, I also play in men’s social games, but these are different from competitive matches.”
Tabitha’s sister, Temwa, who is also a key national team player and turns out for another Chinese top league side Wuhan, is also in a similar predicament.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu yesterday described the Chawinga sisters’ situation as precarious.
“The issue here is that they are employees and the ideal situation could be their clubs loaning them to either foreign or local teams.
“If there is a possibility to play in Malawi, then we could facilitate that, but that would depend on their respective teams’ stand.
“As FA [Football Association], we are keen to see them play as they are key national team players and we have back-to-back  Women’s Africa Cup of Nations [Afcon] qualifiers against e-Swatini coming up early April,” he said.
Tabitha said she is prepared to play for DD Sunshine on a short-term loan spell.
“I am sure my club would be willing to loan me to a local club, but the problem is that I am not sure when the women’s football season will start and whether local teams will accept that I should play,” she said.
China has greatly restricted travel and banned large gatherings in major cities in order to halt the spread of the virus, which is considered highly contagious. All professional sporting events have been suspended. The coronavirus in deadly and as of yesterday, the death-toll had risen to 1 770.