Though Fifa states that its member associations and their affiliates should not be involved in politics, it has become a trend for politicians, especially from the ruling party, to make donations to football clubs either in cash or kind in return for votes.
Last Saturday President Peter Mutharika promised to donate buses to local football giants Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers, with just seven days before fresh presidential elections scheduled for June 23.
The President made the pledge at the launch rally held at Nyambadwe Primary School Ground in Blantyre after laying foundations stones for the two giants’ stadiums which he also promised prior to the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
It was the same story in 2014 when former president Joyce Banda invited the two teams to Sanjika Palace where she promised to donate K25 million each to the clubs.
Banda fulfilled the pledge later during a friendly match between the two giants just a few days before the 2014 General Elections which she eventually lost to Mutharika.
But Football Association of Malawi (FAM) has dismissed that this is against Fifa code of ethics, arguing that the politicians’ donations are in good faith.
When asked if FAM has not been dragged into partisan politics, the association’s president Walter Nyamilandu, who also promised to support Mutharika during the launch rally, justified the President’s support, saying football should be grateful of politicians’ support.
“From experience, these politicians have come with good intentions to either bail out football entities, enable us to perform better or provide a solution when faced with challenges. So, ultimately we should be grateful and reciprocate favourably,” he said.
Nyamilandu said even opposition parties are “all welcome” to donate to clubs since football does not operate in a vacuum.
He said: “Football relies on a conducive socio-political economic environment to thrive and without any political will, football cannot develop. So, we need to endeavour to create positive political will and to harness it to our advantage.
“We have classic examples where government is directly or indirectly supporting football through club sponsorship, competitions, national teams etc. and this would not have been possible without any political will.”
However, Nyamilandu, who is also a Fifa Council member, said the association draws a line where there is political interference.
“The critical aspect for us is to ensure that once politicians have rendered support, there is no political intervention in the administration of football.
He said: “Some of the key factors to consider when the support is being rendered by politicians is sustainability, neutrality, independence and unconditional support,” he said.
However, speaking during the launch rally, ruling Democratic Progressive Party regional governor for the South Charles Mchacha asked Bullets and Wanderers supporters to ‘return the favour’, though not directly referring to the June 23 election.
The two clubs’ representatives—Wanderers general secretary Victor Maunde and Bullets director Fleetwood Haiya—indiscreetly promised to support Mutharika.
Said Haiya: “Bwana president zomwe mwapangazi sitizakuyiwalani ndipo angakhale pafupi pompa sitikuyiwalani, [Mr. President we will repay you for what you have done very soon].”
On his part, Maunde sweet-talked Mutharika to help Wanderers pay a K70 million debt the club accumulated while playing in CAF Champions League in 2018, saying once this is done the Nomads will support the President.
He said: “Monga anena a Haiya, chifukwa cha stadium iyi sitikuyiwalani. Komanso mukangopanga za ngongole imeneyi tipitilira kukumbukilani ngakhale week ya mawa. [Just like my colleague has said, we will remember you for the stadium and if you pay the debt for us, we will continue supporting you even next week.]”
In response, the President said he would look into the issues raised by the two teams.
But former National Youth Football Association (NYFA) chairperson Mabvuto Missi faulted FAM for practising partisan politics.
“FAM [should] borrow a leaf from South Africa Football Association, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. These are two giants with large following, but are not used by politicians.
“Football unites all types of people; hence, football administrators must be neutral or should avoid active politics,” he said.