If you want to be scared to death, you just have to read headlines of local publications. Reading the front page headlines of Malawi’s dailies, one would wonder how Malawians are surviving the economic hardships the country is facing.
Here is a sample of some of the headlines: Government intensifies food aid appeals, IMF decision spell doom, Malawi fails IMF test, Government fails to employ 51 doctors, Funding woes leave hospitals on life support, Government disowns Malamulo College students, Food woes deepen in Mzimba hospitals, Nurses threaten strike, Government abandons junior doctors and Malawi risks another Cashgate!
And when you turn to the back pages, it all looks familiar: Flames funding woes, FAM seeks free friendlies, FAM renovates stadium to dodge Fifa sanctions, Blue Eagles players owed millions, No money for Flames!
There is a unique relationship between these front page headlines and the back page screamers.
Government is the biggest sponsor of sports and football particular. It is the main sponsor of the Malawi national football team.
FAM this year got K100 million for all the national team activities, but even before the year ends, the association has already exhausted its funding and has to fend for its self between now and June next year.
Out of the 15 Super League teams, eight of them are sponsored by government either directly or indirectly. Civo United are bankrolled by the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) while Silver Strikers are sponsored by the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM).
The league also has five Malawi Defence Force (MDF) teams; Kamuzu Barracks, Red Lions, Airborne Rangers, Moyale Barracks and Mafco—all feeding from the same government coffers. Mzuzu University (Mzuni), the only academic institutional team, also depends on funding from Malawi government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
The only private owned teams in the league are Epac FC, Big Bullets, Be Forward Wanderers, Azam Tigers, Fisd Wizards and Dedza Young Soccer.
This year, Ministry of Sports and Culture was allocated K5.9 billion for the 2015/2016 financial year of which K5 billion went to the furnishing of the new Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
This means the ministry has to share the remaining K900 million with Malawi National Council of Sports and several sports associations.
The government also has to manage its dilapidated facilities such as Blantyre Youth Centre, Kamuzu Stadium, Civo Stadium, Mzuzu Stadium, Kamuzu Institute for Sports and BAT ground.
Director of Sports in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, Jameson Ndalama, admits that sports sector is not left out from the economic hardships the country is facing.
“Government has a lot of responsibilities. It has to look at the welfare of its people using the taxonomy of needs. It has to make sure hospitals have drugs, food, construct roads and several services for its people,” Ndalama said.
“Obviously, sports does not come first. When funds are available government has shown its commitment to developing sports in the country. But it needs the corporate world to compliment it’s a efforts.”
If government is broke like is the case now, sports is bound to suffer as well just like all other ministries and departments, perhaps even worse. However, the problems are worsened with lack of marketing drives in sports sector.
Apart from TNM who sponsor the league, Malawi has two major cups—Standard Bank Knockout and Carlsberg Cup—for elite football while Chipiku, Nsejjere and Simama sponsor the regional leagues.
FMB have a long-term partnership with FAM through the Under-20 tournaments just like Airtel who are also into junior football sponsorship.
For a long time, the Flames had been operating without an official sponsor until Carlsberg Malawi Limited stepped in and FAM is now being urged to think outside the box and to emulate other FAs like their counterparts in Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, who have multiple sponsors for national teams and cups.
While elsewhere, sponsors submit proposals to sponsor football and are sent back if their applications are not good enough, in Malawi it is the opposite.
“The main problem is our economy,” said FAM general secretary Suzgo Nyirenda, adding: “If our economy was on track, companies would have been lining up to sponsor football.”
In these hard times, even an optimist would be naïve to expect the back pages to one day read ‘Flames are Afcon champions’ or ‘Malawi qualifies for the World Cup!’ n