By Precious Msosa
Since celebrated netballer Mwawi Kumwenda broke the jinx of being the first Malawian to sign a professional deal with a Europe based outfit, her compatriots have of late become a hot property. When she became the talk of town for striking her maiden deal with Tactix, most people were hopeful that this was the beginning of good things.
However, the nation had to wait for some four good years when the gods of sports finally smiled on the country’s netball world. Perhaps this had to wait because the international teams had wanted to see how Mwawi would gel in a foreign and much competitive league. Boom! There she was. She never took time before being a darling to many netball enthusiasts in New Zealand.
The romance with the New Zealand based side which she signed for in 2014, however, lasted for three years. To prove her mettle, Mwawi scored more baskets than any other shooter in the league. A feat very few athletes could have accomplished. She was eventually decorated with the ANZ Championship’s Best New Talent Award.
Mwawi: It pays to work hard
Then Australian giants Melbourne Vixens snatched her from Tactix. At her current club, she continues tormenting the opponent’s defenders and snatching several awards along the way. It is these in-roads that Mwawi has made that have compelled several European sides to believe that Malawi has talent. At the moment, we boast of four netballers that have joined her on the international scene.
They are Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder in England’s National Vitality League), Laureen Ngwira (London Pulse), Takondwa Lwazi (who is hired by Thunder during special competitions) and defender Towera Vinkhumbo (Seven Stars, Vitality league).
With many of our netballers being hot cakes on the European market, what does this signify for our netball?
General Secretary for Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) Carol Bapu describes the development as an exciting one.
“This is the beginning of good things to come beca- use apart from the players improving their economic status, they are also marketing the country. Malawi has a very unique style of play and this has resulted in many countries in Africa and beyond keep on adoring us,” says Bapu.
However, Bapu says the fortune of our netball export doesn’t mean the game has hit the pinnacle but rather destined for greatness.
“We want to see more players abroad. We also want to see the demand for Malawi coaches grow. We are also working hard to make sure that our umpires reach a level where they can officiate at the big stage,” she says.
Mwawi says this is a good development to the sport as these opportunities will help transform the national team because it will be playing better netball. She is confident that more players will continue attracting foreign teams. But she is quick to point out that the benchmark remains hard work.
“If they work hard more teams will be dying for their services,” she says.
However, the multi-award-winning netballer says authorities need to promote netball from primary schools so that pupils are familiar with the game at a tender age. The star conducts clinics and donates netball paraphernalia to some primary schools in the country during her holidays.
While the country is exporting netball talent abroad, there is one ‘sad’ side of these deals. NAM president Khungekire Matiya said local teams benefit almost nothing in the deals. There is no transfer fee involved when a local netballer gets signed by a foreign team.
Matiya said this is why she would like to lobby international netball authorities to look into these international deals. According to her, instead of teams benefiting financially for developing the players, all they get are balls and sometimes training kits.
Legend Mary Waya was once hired by an English side for coaching services. Waya, who had a great career with Malawi Queens, is recognized by International Netball Federation as a trainer. She was recently assigned to Tanzania to drill local coaches.
All this speaks volumes of Malawi’s potential in the netball world. With all these successes, it could just be a matter of time before Malawi – number six on world netball rankings – breaks into top five dominated by Australia, England, New Zealand, Jamaica and South Africa.