When former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika promised that government would construct a state-of-the-art indoor netball court to save the Malawi Queens, who are the country’s pride on the international stage, from the embarrassment of having the “free-to-air” Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC) as their home, the song was so sweet.
Then, Mutharika had to remind the Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) of his pledge and even threatened to withdraw the pledge if NAM failed to submit its plans. But unfortunately, Mutharika died before the project could materialise; leaving the colour dream to the next government.
However, the fact that it is now a decade since the indoor court promise was made, the sweetness of the song seems to turn sour as the government officials continue to add more promises on the same.
In the latest promise, Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Grace Chiumia on Saturday said government is aware of the project, which will be done within five years.
“The indoor netball court project is our priority as the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] gets re-elected in the forthcoming elections. We will have it within a space of five years,” she said when asked when the project will begin.
But it has been the tune which the netball fraternity has been dancing to for years now.
In 2014, Chiumia also made a similar sentiment when she told the media that: “I have to be honest that there is political will on the part of President Peter Mutharika to improve sports infrastructure in the country.”
“Netball has put Malawi on the global map through the Malawi Queens’ success. We need to show our appreciation by constructing a modern sports facility so that we are able to host teams such as England, New Zealand and other big names, and in the process raise revenue.”
In the 2011 financial year, K250 million was allocated to the project, but later government backtracked on its earlier plans to have the indoor court as part of the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
In 2017, the government seemed to have a relief when the Rach Family Trust, through its chairperson Rav Rach, came with a daring promise to construct a K2 billion indoor court after signing a K600 million sponsorship contract with NAM.
But just like bubble-gum music, the promise quickly became insipid as the trust failed to walk the talk, forcing the local netball governing body to opt for contract termination.
The unfulfilled promises were so painful even to the former NAM president Rosy Chinunda, who lamented in 2017 after handing over the mantle to Khungekile Matiya at Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi that she bowed out of netball administration without seeing her dream of a modern netball court turning into reality.
Her sentiment followed a promise she made in 2013 that the main purpose of seeking re-election then, was to complete her programme of ensuring that the multi-million kwacha complex was erected, but her four-year tenure expired with the facility remaining a pipe-dream.
“My wish was to see an indoor court constructed while I was still in office but, unfortunately, it has not happened. Nevertheless, I will die a happy person if I see such a court being constructed,” Chinunda told The Nation after being NAM president for three four-year terms.
At present, Matiya also believes in cold comfort that the facility will be constructed during her tenure. However, the problem is that nobody is sure when exactly the project will start.
With the facility in place, the national netball team, which is ranked second in Africa and number six in the world, would be able to not only host high-profile teams such as Australia, New Zealand and England but also help them survive the harshness of playing under the scorching sun or during rains.