Football for political blackmail

In all fairness, I lost my gamesome drive some time back. There was a time I could not miss a match of my favourite team home or away. But today, I don’t even remember the last time I went into a stadium to watch 22 men go about kicking some leather.

Yet, make no mistakes. This is not to say I lost interest in football. I still follow the game of the people from the ‘touchline’ as it were.

And when there is a thin line between football and politics, it really can arouse attention. Politics and football, at one point or the other, sail in one boat. When two national teams battle it on the pitch, it is a sporty war between two nations. History records, for instance, that in 1968 before a game between Germany and England, the English made a Nazi salute!

So, the interest was roused on Wednesday when President Peter Mutharika invited to Sanjika Palace Malawi’s football giants, Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Be Forward Wanderers. On the day, Mutharika repeated the promise that government will build stadia for the arch-rivals. In his words, Mutharika said as a matter of fact, the next budget will include provision for the two stadiums.

When Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha presents the budget on Monday, it will be interesting to see if Mutharika lives up to his word.

It has been said before that it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the president’s using public funds to build football grounds for private entities. The president explained that the move is his contribution to the development of football in the country.

I take that with a pinch of salt. If he were really interested in the development of football, the president could have fostered means and ways to woo more companies to sponsor teams and competitions.

I strongly believe using public funds to help non-performing private entities is legal. So many private companies have died, yet the government has never come out with bailouts. In fact, a bailout for a State corporation, Admarc, brought stiff opposition in Parliament. What more with private football clubs?

Ironically, the President urged the two teams about commercialisation. How can they think about going commercial when they know there is a ‘father Christmas’ who will feed them not from his pay, but his employer’s coffers!

I hold the truth to be self-evident that the President is only doing this to gain some political mileage. He did it during the independence celebrations when he gave both teams an equal amount in spite of who won or lost.

The political undertones were even clear when the President patted sports administrators on the back for bringing down hooliganism, unlike some political leaders. Deconstructing that, you find Mutharika damning politicians for not stopping the violence that has come with the demonstrations against his re-election.

The president was right; politicians have failed to tame the violence. He has contributed to the state of affairs. For once, he has inflamed demonstrators to go wayward because he has failed to control the DPP cadets, who have time and again, tried to stop the spirit of the demonstrations flow freely. He is party to the violence as he has failed to command the police to be professional in handling the situation at the demonstrations.

For that matter, the President has said outright he will not fire Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah, and has even called on the police and army to deal with demonstrators.

By taking the stadium issue into the budget, Mutharika appears to be blackmailing parliamentarians. I believe the president thinks the MPs will think that shooting down an allocation to the two teams would make them enemies of the two teams’ supporters.

But, the MPs, I know, cannot fall for such trickery. There is hunger to think of. There is rising cost of living to think of. Can we afford, as a nation, to concentrate on unnecessary trivia when we are in a quagmire of problems?

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