The Ministry of Youth and Sports has put on hold plans to roll out the nationwide rural/community football and netball talent identification programme to focus on the newly-established schools sports development programme.
Sports Ministry spokesperson Symon Mbvundula yesterday said his ministry, in liaison with the Ministry of Education, has formed a technical committee that will come up with a comprehensive school sports development programme.
The schools programme comes a year after the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led government had in April 2019 already launched the K200 million community programme, which failed to start due to funding woes.
The project was aimed at identifying rural talent from districts through the offices of football and netball directors.
It was agreed that the initiative could act as a nursery for established clubs and that the talent identified could form national teams to compete against their counterparts in neighbouring countries such as Zambia.
However, Mbvundula said priority will now be on the latest schools sports development programme that will see talents in various sports disciplines such as football, netball, basketball and athletics being identified and developed in primary and secondary schools before being drafted into clubs and national teams.
But why did the Sports Ministry prioritise a new talent development project when similar initiative is yet to take off?
“The plan is to run both the schools and the community sports development programmes but the schools project has to start first because it is easier to manage since schools are more organised,” he said.
Mbvundula explained that efforts are being made to ensure that the schools programme is financed and rolled out in all primary and secondary schools in the country.
Sports associations have welcomed the latest plan, saying it is one of the best strategic ways of developing sports.
Malawi Schools Sports Association (Massa) president Blackson Malamula said the community sports development previously failed to produce the desired fruits as regards to talent development as compared to schools sports initiatives.
“If you remember in 1997, there was a community talent development programme that was funded by the Press Trust but it did not yield satisfactory results. We have also been having the Presidential Initiative on Sports [PIS] as another community development initiative but it has also turned out to be wasteful as it is hard to point out its fruits,” he said.
“But if you look at the previous schools sports projects, you will notice a good number of great talents that were produced. Football and netball legends such as Kinnah Phiri, Lawrence Waya and Mary Waya are some of such products.”
Basketball Association of Malawi (Basmal) general secretary Peter Gomani said he is in support of the new approach of directing talent development and identification through a school programme.
He said this has always worked in the past and it is the same approach Basmal has taken to revamp National Schools Basketball League.
“Schools are where you can identitfy, develop and track the growth of athelets than just in rural communities because sports teachers will have tools to do this and, with their established structures, this will be easy. Moreover, it is good that the latest approach focuses on more sports disciplines than just football and netball,” he said.
Nevertheless, sports analyst George Chiusiwa believes it could be better for the community and the schools sports projects to run concurrently for maximum talent identification and exposure.
He said some schools are in hard-to-reach areas with no sports infrustructures and there are some individuals that are not attached to schools for various reasons but can become extraordinary sports talents if given the necessary platform for development.
“The community sports development programme is still as viable as the schools initiative and it could be better for both to run together as it is not only through schools that we can identify talents,” Chiusiwa said.
“We have vulnerable groups such as street children, who do not go to school but can become great sports personalities through the community sports programme. We surely need a blueprint to guide both programmes.” Physical education expert Mark Tembo said it is important for the government to roll out the programme in all schools in the country “because that is where talent is found”.