When Airtel came to sponsor netball at the tune of K360 million we were all very impressed because that was a milestone in as far as sports sponsorship was concerned. It was to cover for a national championship as well as the national teams’ international engagements.
Sadly, Airtel has announced the withdrawal of this significant step in netball, leaving the sport reeling with disbelief.
Netball Association of Malawi (Nam) needs to take stock of what really happened for Airtel to decide to put the plug on this milestone sponsorship, that was initiated at the time when the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima was Airtel’s managing director.
I have always said that for the corporate world to sponsor sport or any other industry be it music or a charity event, it is not just a social obligation but also a marketing strategy. Airtel came into netball for visibility and it got just that through the Airtel Money national championship.
Airtel was marketing its brand — Airtel Money transfer — to reach out to as many people as possible and it find a space in netball.
Nam should ask itself, what else did they do to add value to Airtel’s support? What was in the contract? Did Nam miss out anything from that contract? I ask this because I am failing to understand why Airtel would just abruptly cut its ties like this when all along, the company was very strong and passionate in its support of this sport.
Have any lessons been learnt here? All Nam president Rose Chinunda said in her reaction to this huge blow was to say they are so grief stricken to respond favourably and that they would do so once they recover from the shock.
Hopefully, they have recovered from the shock and that they have decided to pick themselves up in order to move forward.
My suggestion is that Nam should contact Honourable Juliana Lunguzi, Member of Parliament for Dedza East, who is on a campaign to move a private member Bill that special funding should be set aside to be invested in the development of Malawi netball.
Find out from her what she needs in order to successfully have this motion pass through Parliament.
When she posted this suggestion on her Facebook profile, she received overwhelming positive response and several people offered their own suggestions to be included in that Bill, such as giving a certain percentage of tax exemption to the corporate companies that would be willing to sponsor netball or other sports while others proposed introducing a fuel levy for sports.
Others intimated that netball should get equal share as that given to football because netball is Malawi’s niche — the strong selling point that can be used to market the tourism industry.
I saw none from the netball fraternity who added value to Lunguzi’s — it was like business as usual for Nam who are just keen to be spoon fed.
But I reiterate that this move by Hon. Lunguzi is feasible. Our sports development needs some political will and the lawmakers should positively support this Bill and the stakeholders should have moved fast to support her so that this is debated at length at Parliament level.
I suggested, in this column last a fortnight ago that Hon. Lunguzi’s initiative can be made so visible if a special event was done to solicit sympathy from the other lawmakers.
I said that just like what the lawmakers do when they engage with the public and some members of the diplomatic corps through football as a social event to relax after exhausting time of Parliamentary debates, the same can be done through netball in order to strongly support Lunguzi’s Bill.
Instead of taking to the streets to march in support of some political Bill like what usually happens with political matters, the netball fraternity can organise a Beach Netball event.
Beach netball has been introduced by countries like Australia, New Zealand and England which also targets tourism since it is played mostly at holiday resorts. It is fast becoming very popular and the corporate world in these countries supports it.
This format of netball can be introduced in Malawi — first as in support for Lunguzi’s Bill and second to add some potential for tourism just like what Lake of Stars and Sand Music Festivals target.
Nam can get in touch with Lunguzi to organise such an event and using her influence, the corporate world — including Airtel — can support it financially.
With support from the diplomatic corps, a social activity with the Queens is possible for beach netball on one free weekend. A few manageable teams can be organised in which one shall have two players from the Queens and the others could be MPs and the diplomats.
It can also attract some broadcasting rights to be sourced through display of advertising billboards from interested corporate companies. The revenue from it can go to that special fund for netball development.
The beach netball idea can bring forth another dimension to netball and tourism. It can become an attractive measure for Malawi because the Queens have made the country known throughout the netball world.
Tourists would be attracted to visit Malawi’s national beach netball tournaments, making Malawi synonymous with the glamour of netball just like Brazil is with football, India with cricket, the United States with basketball and baseball and Australia, New Zealand with rugby.
Nam should quickly contact Hon. Lunguzi on this proposal for the formulation of a comprehensive strategy for the suitable development of the sport of netball rather than just relying on a one-off social responsibility from the corporate world.
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