Government has said the ailing Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre will not be ready to host matches when the 2018 football season kicks off on April 14.
Last month, Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Francis Kasaila assured the nation that the stadium would be ready for top-flight league matches but the ministry’s spokesperson Christina Mkutumula yesterday said the timeframe is too short for the completion of the ongoing renovations at the facility.
The development has frustrated Blantyre-based soccer giants Be Forward Wanderers and Nyasa Big Bullets who had planned to have the facility as their home ground during the new season.
Mkutumula said: “We really expected the renovations to be completed by mid April but now the timeframe has been extended to sometime in May because there is more work to be done. Apart from installing the new artificial turf at the facility, there are additional works, such as the fortifying of stands, which will need a month or so to complete before public use.
“Moreover, we need more time for rains to subside so that we install the new turf and the installation alone takes between two to three weeks. We do not want to rush things to ensure the safety of the public.”
The Nation visited the stadium yesterday but could not get inside to thoroughly monitor the progress of the works as it was sealed. Officials of the construction company hired for the project said their client (government) instructed them not to allow any outsider during the renovations period.
But a peep through the main entrance gate showed that the most visible work that has been done so far was the painting of the VIP, covered and some open stands. As workers moved around the facility, the old turf remained intact on the pitch while rolls of new astroturf lined up on the edges.
Nevertheless, Wanderers chairperson Gift Mkandawire and Bullets chief executive officer Fleetwood Haiya told The Nation yesterday the prolonged stadium renovation is a big setback.
“After being told the stadium would be ready by end of March, we expected that the facility would be our base as the league kicks off; we did not plan that we will play our home games away from our fold. Now, it will be a big challenge to look for an alternative venue,” he said. “However, we understand the government because it is better for us to have a complete stadium than a half-baked facility.”
On his part, Haiya said: “As Bullets, we got reports that the stadium would be ready by April and we banked on the facility because it is spacious enough to host our countless supporters and help us make meaningful gate revenue.”
Soccer analyst Humphrey Mvula said it is unfortunate that the Southern Region, which has two big and popular soccer teams in the country, will continue to be denied high-profile soccer matches in the 2018 season.
“It is sad that there is limited political and administrative will to finalise renovations at the stadium. You can deceive people to a certain point but, look, the chicken has come to roost; the empty promises are coming back to haunt the authorities,” he said.