The fall of Queens

Signs and symptoms that have been persistent and threatening Malawi national netball team’s standing in the world order finally culminated into a disaster.

The Queens reached an all-time low following their failure to be among top-six teams at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games where they lost to England 76-49 and Uganda 54-52 and won four games.

In short, the Queens are out of the comfort zone as they will no longer automatically qualify for major events but will be required to go through qualifiers.

Ironically, Malawi burst into the top-six in Australia during the 2006 edition of the Games.

It is quite painful that a team that once finished third in Fast5 Netball World Series in Australia has failed to build on its success, and instead is steadily regressing.

Sports analyst, Kandani Ngwira, said Malawi was supposed to lose at the Games so as to appreciate the decline.

“We are hiding our faults. The team is not okay but Netball Association of Malawi (Nam) pretends like it is okay. We need a serious rebuilding exercise to get back to our best. The Queens have fallen from position six to seven, something that has never happened in the history of netball in Malawi,” he said.

Ngwira noted that Malawi’s netball standards have been on the decline for the last five years.

“The signs have been there but we ignored them. Instead, we found scapegoats such as the quarrel between Mwawi Kumwenda and the technical panel and Nam. We ended up losing all matches at the Fast5 and blamed it on the absence of Mwawi. She (Mwawi) has returned to the side but the situation is deteriorating,” he said.

Ngwira observed that age has caught up with most of the squad players and there was need to set up developmental structures and come up with good reconditioning programmes.

“Majority [of the players] have married and are now mothers. They are not the same players of 10 years ago. So, it is important to help such players regain their form through a systematic reconditioning programme. Youth development structures have been neglected. We have failed to groom the next generation; no wonder our youth team failed to qualify for World Youth Championship in Botswana in 2016,” he said.

Ngwira advised Nam to swallow its pride and embark on rebuilding the team through systematic methods.

“Transition is not an easy thing. In football, we have seen how difficult it has been to build another tangible team after the golden generation of Manfred Hoener’s dream under-20 squad.

“But it is always good to accept the truth earlier and start rebuilding so that there is a good mixture between the youth and experience to enable the youth learn from the old players,” he stated.

Ngwira called for investment in youth programmes and also commercialisation of the sport.

“We are not investing in youth teams. We have the Presidential Initiative for Sports aimed at unearthing talent from the districts. But I haven’t seen a single player from the districts as evidence that the tournament is serving its purpose. Other teams like South Africa are investing in netball and they now have a semi- professional league that is beamed live on SuperSport television. This means it is being commercialised and earning income for the teams through television rights.

“Uganda have been improving as we have seen from the results. Botswana recently invited our own national Coach Griffin Saenda Senior to help in identifying players and they will also beat us soon. In Malawi, we are doing the opposite. The government is not willing to construct in-door courts. The sponsor just makes promises but fails to fulfill them. Netball tournaments offer peanuts in prize money. The players lack motivation,” he said.

Former Queens skipper, Emmie Chongwe, said there was need for collaborative efforts from all stakeholders to revive the senior netball team.

“Firstly, we have individual players and not necessarily a team. So, we need someone who can put the team together without interference.

“We also need play-makers in the team that can take it upon themselves to raise the game when the chips are down. It is a pity that most players appear satisfied with being in the team instead of fighting to make a difference to turn around the team,” she said.

Chongwe also called for investment in youth and infrastructure.

“For how long have we been crying for a standard court? How are we then going to attract big teams to play friendly games with us? Why is it that we are failing to compete in junior tournaments?” she quizzed.

The legend also asked coaches to select players on merit rather than reputation.

“There is no continuity in the senior side as coaches are being changed regularly and this affects continuity. Some coaches that have been there have also left us baffled with their questionable tactics and team selection.

“Some coaches have been making some costly substitutions thereby affecting the rhythm of the game. We also need good recondition programme to aid players that are returning from a long-lay off as a result of injuries,” he said.

Multichoice Malawi Sales and Marketing Manager, Chimwemwe Nyirenda, said time was ripe for Malawi to step back, strategise and rebuild.

“Malawi sent the most experienced team but now we can’t keep on using the same players. We are paying for sleeping and not exposing and discovering new talent. Teams such as Uganda, Fiji and Zambia will soon overtake the Queens. We have not created a strong under-21 team and we are paying for not sending junior teams to major tournaments,” he said.

In the past year, where the Queens have been coached by Saenda, Mary Waya and now Whyte Mulilima, the senior side has lost 15 games and won 11 games in Africa Netball Championship, Fast5 Netball World Series, test series-against England, Taini Jameson Trophy and Commonwealth Games.

The Queens beat minnows such as Wales, Northern Ireland and Fiji but struggle against giants.

Now the Queens have sunk so low they can lose to Uganda. South Africa no longer fancy courting Malawi for test matches. Nam and the country should have seen this coming.

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