Ray of hope

Malawi still has a chance to fight for qualification in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as organisers have just shifted dates for qualifiers as a precautionary measure in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s prospects of producing the first-ever qualified athletes for the global showpiece appeared bleak after qualifying events in judo, athletics and swimming—which are Malawi’s last hopes—were recently cancelled due to the outbreak.

Malawi Olympic team at the 2012 London Olympic Games

However, Malawi Olympic Committee (MOC) administration manager Naomi Chinatu yesterday said there is now a glimmer of hope as organisers of the events have decided to shift the qualifiers.

“The qualifying events are still on, but the dates have been changed. Our athletes will keep on preparing for the events and we are hopeful that they will do their best to break the country’s curse as regards Olympics qualification,” Chinatu said.

The qualifiers are the only route that Malawi can take to enhance chances of sending athletes to the Olympics, considering that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) no longer allows countries to participate on solidarity grounds.

At present, athletes that fail to qualify are only considered on universality grounds. This means they have to convince the IOC that they have been improving their records in various competitions they have been competing in since the last Olympic event.

The country’s judo ambassadors Harriet Boniface and Chikondi Kathewera saw the International Judo Open Championship being cancelled last weekend in Peru, but Chinatu yesterday said the event will now take place in June.

Athletes Kefasi Kasiteni Chisala, Chancy Master, Chikondi Mwanyali, Jameson Tonde, Asimenye Simwaka and Mary Kamwendo were also scheduled to enhance their Olympic qualification chances through competing in the Africa Cross-Country Championship in Togo in the first week of April, but the contest has been pushed to a later date.

Qualifiers in swimming have also been moved from April to unspecified dates. Aquatic Union of Malawi (AUM) national coach Yona Walesi yesterday said the development means Phillip Gomez has a realistic chance of making the grade through the Africa Seniors Championship expected to be conducted in Durban, South Africa as he missed qualification by only two seconds in 50-metre freestyle during Zone VI Games in Botswana in February. 

Kasiteni, who represented the country at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, yesterday welcomed the latest development, saying it has revived Malawi’s chances of ending a half-century curse at the Olympics.

“I was really worried when the qualifiers were cancelled but there were no signs that we could have them ahead of the Olympics. This is a big motivation for us to engage an extra gear in our preparations,” he said. Walesi and Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM) general secretary Frank Chitembeya said they are keeping their fingers crossed that the qualifiers will indeed take place due to uncertainties over when the coronavirus outbreak will be dealt with.

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