Airtel Malawi has described the Malawi Queens as a valuable asset worth more than the K360 million investment the company pumped into netball.
The mobile network company’s managing director Charles Kamoto said this when Airtel treated the Queens to a luncheon at Sunbird Capital yesterday following their defining tour of duty of Melbourne, Australia where they defied all odds to finish a respectable third at the Fast5 World Netball Series.
The Queens returned home to a rapturous welcome as they drove from the airport to the hotel in an open shuttle with a seven car escort.
“When we invested K360 million for development of netball in the country we had a vision. Even when the Queens used to finish on fifth position, we still kept faith in the team believing something good will happen.
“Today that vision has been realised. Finishing third against top talent is no mean achievement,” said Kamoto.
He said the satisfaction that his company and the county is experiencing is much more than the K360 million they put in.
To show appreciation, Kamoto handed over a K6 million cheque to be shared among the players and technical staff.
However, he could not commit as to whether they will renew the three year-sponsorship deal with Netball Association of Malawi (NAM), which includes the Queens’ sponsorship.
In an interview later on, coach Griffin ‘Zagallo’ Saenda said the break into the top three at the tournament signified a new dawn for the Queens.
“The gap between us and teams such as England and Jamaica might be big in terms of class, wealth and stature, but that matters less when you have a good game plan, the spirit, courage and undying determination and that is what my girls did.
“We mastered the format and the rules and came up with plans in accordance with the opponent and it worked. If there was something special about these girls, it was their never-die spirit even when the odds were heavily stacked against them.
“They had no fear for their opponents and played to instructions, that is why when England beat us on the opening day by over 20-basket margin, they recovered barely 24 hours later and beat them,” he said.
Saenda appealed to government and the corporate world to seriously consider investing in the Queens, saying: “If we were able to scale such heights with shoddy preparations, what if we had all the support we needed? All the other teams were involved in mini-international tournaments before the Fast5.
“This team needs the support of every Malawian because we have proved that we have the potential to become world champions, but it doesn’t come on a silver platter.”
On her part, captain Grace Mwafulirwa-Mhango said team spirit was the centrepiece of their vintage display.
Said Mwafulirwa-Mhango: “We were without some of our key players such as [captain] Carol Mtukule-Ngwira and Sindi Simtowe-Msowoya, but that gave us inspiration to fight all the way. We fought for each other and our coaches were on top of things.
“There have been greater Queens’ teams before, but to achieve the feat of breaking into the top three in a world tournament, was amazing.”
First Lady Getrude Mutharika, who is currently in China, sent a congratulatory message through Malawi National Sports Council (MNCS) board member Violet Chinkono.
Meanwhile, President Peter Mutharika has pledged to host the Queens soon to congratulate them for their feat.
In a press statement issued yesterday by the State House, signed by presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, the President states: “The President wants to host the triumphant Queens at his residence soon and assures them of continued personal and government support to enable them achieve their next great target which is to be the number one netball team in the world.” n