The growing sports in Malawi

Malawians love sporting activities, whether it’s popular games like football and netball, or less common activities like rugby. It’s not just physical sports either. More sedate forms of competition like chess and poker also exist in the country.

In action during the netball match

The national football team, The Flames, have been one of Malawi’s biggest flag fliers, qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations twice, most recently in 2010. They finished third in the 1987 African Games, as well as winning the CECAFA Cup in 1995. The squad went through 2019 with only a single loss.

In netball, “The Queens” have performed even better, currently sitting 6th in the International Netball Federation rankings.

Promoting Other Sports

As a testament to the nation’s love of sport, the Malawi National Council of Sports was created in 1974 to develop and promote sports in the country, assist in their organisation, develop a culture of good sportsmanship and discipline, and source funding for scholarships for players and coaches.

To this end, the Council has invested in a range of projects, including the construction of a mini boxing gym, at a cost of K20 million, and building K60 million worth of accommodation and dining facilities for athletes at the Kamuzu Stadium.

The Council also holds annual awards for athletes, organisers, coaches and referees. Winners in 2019 include Tabitha Chawinga, who won Sportswoman of the Year and Overall Sportsperson of the Year, Bernadetta Mkwimbira Nzika, who won Umpire/Referee/Judge of the Year, and the Draughts National Team, who won National Team of the Year.

Thanks to the Council and other factors within and outside of Malawi, smaller sports are seeing steady growth in the country.

Basketball

Since Malawi gained independence in 1964, basketball has been slowly growing in popularity in the country. It was introduced by US volunteers, and Malawians quickly fell in love with the sport.

Other organisations have funded professional players and coaches from the US to Malawi to help improve talent in the country and scout the best players for the NBA. The first Malawian player to make it on the international stage is Mphatso Gift Zilemba, who plays for the Beijing Panthers.

This investment has been extended recently, with the planned launch of the Basketball Africa League as a joint venture between FIBA and the NBA.

National leagues in Malawi are popular, even at college level. In 2019, the national College Basketball tournament received sponsorship from the National Bank of Malawi and its Mo626 Digital brand. The winning teams in each category received K2 million each.

Poker

As is common throughout the world, card games are also popular in Malawi, especially those that require strategic skill. Poker has many of the same elements as Bao, such as psychology and game theory.

The game has seen considerable growth across the globe over recent years, with some of the main operators offering online versions of popular poker games like Omaha hi-lo and Texas holdem.

Although Malawians have a long way to catch up to other nations, there’s no reason to think that they won’t adopt a similar format as those offered by the main UK platforms.

Volleyball

Volleyball was introduced into Malawi in a similar way to basketball, with a lot of influence from Americans. Unlike basketball, volleyball doesn’t have any major professional leagues like the NBA, so funding is a little harder to come by.

As a result, the sport is held back a little bit in Malawi due to less than optimal economic conditions. The national governing body, the Volleyball Association of Malawi, warned in 2019 that it needed around K40 million every year to successfully undertake its activities.

In partnership with the Malawi National Council of Sports and the Confederation of African Volleyball, the Volleyball Association of Malawi recently started a training course for volleyball refereeing. Enlisting the help of Waleed Mohamed Abdelsamad Kabel, an Egyptian instructor, the course is designed to improve the skills and knowledge of local and national referees in the country. In 2019, 49 hopefuls registered for the course, although not all of them were awarded the national referee certification.

Chess

Like poker, chess is a game that relies on game theory and psychology. There are around 120 Malawian chess players registered with FIDE, the International Chess Federation.

At the end of 2019, the president of the Chess Association of Malawi, Susan Namangale, qualified for the 2020 World Chess Olympiad.

She picked up a gold medal after taking a 12-year hiatus from playing, winning 6.5 out of a possible nine points. As well as flying the flag for Malawi, she’s hoping to inspire more female chess players in the country and across Africa. The competition is due to take place in the Russian capital of Moscow in August 2020.

Despite this success, the Chess Association of Malawi has struggled financially in recent years. In 2019 it made a public plea to raise K1.5 million to partially fund the Malawian national team’s participation in the All Africa Games. Four players made it to the event, but between them they failed to bring home a medal.

Athletics

Athletics is a very broad category of sports, featuring a range of races, from the 100-metre sprint to the marathon, and other events like the high jump and discus. Malawi has been represented at the Olympics since the 1972 event in Munich.

The country is yet to win a medal and has reduced the number of athletes it sends since 1992. Despite this, Malawians are very proud of their athletes, including famous entrants like Catherine Chikwaka.

The popularity of these events has helped to encourage many to take part in events like marathons in cities across the country. Over time, this interest may yield a medal-winning Olympian.

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Makes great reading and resourceful

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