When Malawi Queens handed the mighty New Zealand’s Silver Ferns their first-ever defeat at the Commonwealth Games, the result sent a shockwave into the very foundations of that country’s netball history.
“New Zealand netball has plunged into crisis after the Silver Ferns were on the wrong end of the greatest upset at the Commonwealth Games,” began a story on news.com.au., one of New Zealand’s top newspapers.
Never before had the Silver Ferns lost to an African country at such a high profile international competition.
At full-time, the Queens broke into dance in mid-court as the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre exploded into a standing ovation.
But little did the jam-packed arena know that despite that historic win that stole the Silver Ferns pride, the Queens’ were going to get a meagre K20 000 bonus each.
Queens’ coach Whyte Mlilima painted a dark picture on the team’s future unless something urgent is done.
He said: “These players only play for the love of the sport. The allowance they get is just peanuts.”
Currently, government’s game bonus for Queens players is K20 000 for a win and K10 000 for a draw. External allowance is $50 (about K35 000).
It has now been over six years since the Queens were promised an increase but up to now, nothing has changed.
According to one of the Queens’ senior players, the talks to increase allowances started in 2012, but government and Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) have paid a blind eye.
“It is really painful that despite our efforts on the international stage, we still get peanuts. However, we choose to suffer in silence for fear of being dropped from the squad,” she said.
“I once asked a South African national team player about their allowances and I was stunned to learn that they get at least 10 times more than us. That completely demoralised me to the effect that I could not concentrate in the next game.”
But the lack of monetary motivation is not the only challenge haunting the Queens’ progress; poor netball infrastructure and lack of youth development system are also thorns in their flesh.
The Queens still relies on the dilapidated and sun-baked Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC) netball court for preparations.
Promises of a modern indoor court, which the government made in 2009 through former President Bingu wa Mutharika , remains a pipe-dream.
Yet, within the same period, government has managed to construct a number of multi-million kwacha football stadiums in Karonga, Mulanje, Kasungu and Mangochi.
In December, 2016, the Rach Family gave the nation hope when they signed a five-year K600 million netball sponsorship deal and pledged a K2 billion indoor netball court but they were noncommittal until the contract was terminated a few months ago.
Due to lack of an indoor netball court and other standard netball infrastructures, the Queens can hardly host a prestigious international event or attract top teams such as Australia, England and Jamaica.
The Queens also lack a proper youth development system as it has been in shambles since the Junior Queens failed to defend the Zone V1 Games in 2012.
NAM president Khungekile Matiya admitted the challenges but said everything narrows down to lukewarm financial support from the corporate world and the government.
“I have been NAM president for less than a year and I was full of expectation that the Rach Family Trust’s indoor court promise would be fulfilled,” she said.
“We are also keeping our fingers crossed to see government constructing a state-of-the-art netball facility. On top of that, we are aware of players’ incentives and we have plans to set up youth development structures. However, we do not get adequate funding to put things in order.”
As if that is not enough torture to the sport that puts Malawi on the world map, the Queens’ shambolic preparations for prestigious competition salso stifle the team’s performance.
“Look at our counterparts England, New Zealand, Jamaica and even South Africa. They started their preparations for the Commonwealth Games a year ago. What about us? We only rely on invitational tournaments after camping for three weeks,” Mlilima said.
“Unless, we match our counterparts in these areas, we will continue lagging behind until the day when we will no longer be a force to reckon with.”
Now Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development has acknowledged that it is time to recognise the contribution of national team players.
A research conducted by government unveiled that performance in sports has been dismal owing to a number of factors, including the lack of funding, infrastructure and inadequate sponsors and players motivation, according to the ministry’s sports director Jameson Ndalama.
He said government now wants to establish a special fund called incentive and welfare programme for sports persons, Nation on Sunday can reveal.
He said: “What I can say right now is that government is working on establishing a special fund for the welfare of the national team players.
“We need a unified system of allowances with classification of categories starting from junior national teams such as under-17 under-20 and senior national teams.”
Asked when this would be ready for implementation, Ndalama said they would come up with a formal announcement once consultations are through.
“But what I can say is that we don’t need to rush. We need to make thorough consultations. The ideas are there and there are just many of them. Some will be adopted but people have to be patient.”
On government’s commitment on netball infrastructure development and enhanced allocation to the sport, Ndalama only said plans are underway to sort out the problems.