The Minister of Youth Development and Sports Grace Chiumia is right when she says Red Lions Football Club deserve a stiffer punishment for being involved in soccer violence. While some teams have also been involved in soccer violence, the violence involving Army teams is most worrying because both players and their fans participate. The brutal assault of Godfrey Mwale, who was not even part of the game at Kamuzu Stadium, is most unfortunate. Where is the discipline soldiers are known for?
Acts of violence perpetrated by Army teams are not new. In 2012, Moyale Barracks players and fans assaulted a referee and assistant referees in a game against Big Bullets in Mzuzu. Moyale were fined and four of their players received match bans ranging between five and six months.
Unfortunately, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) and Super League of Malawi (Sulom) have been treating Army teams with kid gloves. And so the cycle of violence has continued. From the look of things, violence involving these teams will never stop until FAM, Sulom and government ban them completely. One should understand that these are soldiers and they understand the language of violence better than civilians.
While we know that sometimes referees spoil the game because of incompetence, there is no justification for players or team officials to be involved in the violence. The best an aggrieved team can do is to lodge a complaint against the referee after the game. We have seen even at the Africa Cup of Nations tournaments referees being punished for spoiling the beautiful game.
If Red Lions had an axe to grind against the officiating personnel, they should have lodged the complaint with Sulom.
For them to resort to beating up innocent people who had nothing to do with soccer is barbaric and criminal. No person is above the law. This includes soldiers. Since it is difficult to know the culprits, it means they will get away with their criminal behaviour.
What is more worrying is that the police fear to arrest soldiers involved in violence. It is like the soldiers have a licence to harass innocent people.
The fact that no statement has been issued by Red Lions is embarrassing and sends a message that they do not care. In fact, one would have expected someone senior in the Army to issue a statement to publicly condemn the action. The behaviour of the soldiers deserves a “red card”. Red Lions need more than a fine.
Red Lions should be banned from the Super League. The Sports minister can also initiate this process at Cabinet level. Banning the team will serve as a lesson to other Army teams. If they also misbehave, they should be banned. After all, it is just a privilege that Army teams have been allowed to play in the civilian league. If anything, they should have been confined to the barracks, waiting for peace-keeping assignments.
Sponsors are likely to pull out if soccer violence is not checked. Equally, soccer fans will be scared to go to stadiums. In Malawi, where entertainment is scarce and people prefer drinking, football is the best entertainment. Time is now for everyone to say “no to soccer violence”