Malawi to quit Cosafa?

Despite Cosafa and SAB Miller having extended the sponsorship contract until 2011 recently, the regional annual soccer tournament is believed to be facing massive financial constraints on the part of main sponsors South African Breweries. And Malawi might be considering rejoining the Confederation of the East and Central African Football Associations (Cecafa).

Former Cosafa Vice President, Geoff Gondwe, said it was no coincidence that Malawi has been invited to take part in this year’s Cecafa competition as guests, amid strong indications that the East African body intends to officially court the Flames into joining the annual regional soccer feast.

“Malawi has no option but to join Cecafa,” advised Gondwe. The former Football Association of Malawi (Fam) president, also blasted the current Cosafa format for not benefiting the region’s football, “because teams play only a few games”, a development which he says defeats the whole purpose of the tournament.

Not long ago Castle announced their intention to withdraw their sponsorship. The intention was reiterated again two weeks ago in Lusaka during the cup final match between Zambia and Angola, when they said they would let it run for another year, leaving an air of uncertainty on most countries, as Castle has been the pillar of support to the tournament.

“The only problem I find is time, not money ,because Cosafa is fully funded so Malawi loses nothing by joining both or moving to Cecafa in case we are to choose between the two,” said the former FAM boss.

Gondwe ruled out assertions that joining Cecafa would be disastrous because its teams are perceived to be weaker, saying there are no permanent weaklings in football.

The best that Malawi got with the Cosafa was participating in two Cosafa finals which they did not win. The Flames were finalists in 2002 and 2003.

Malawi used to be a member of Cecafa until it pulled out in the early 90s due to mismanagement of the competition. During its participation in Cecafa, Malawi won the cup three times in 1978 here at home, 1979 in Kenya and 1988 at home again.

Gondwe credits the participation of Malawi in Cecafa as having been the platform for the country’s participation in the 1984 Nations Cup, in Cote d’Ivoire.

Cecafa also runs a champions club competition which Cosafa does not, thus exposing more players to international football.

Besides winning the Cecafa, Malawi were also bronze medalist of the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi and all that is accredited to the East African competition.

Malawi complain that it has fallen victim to Cosafa because, as compared to Cecafa, Cosafa has tougher teams, but the recent re-formatting of the competition has diluted the competitiveness it carried.

In the early days the Cosafa format put teams in various groups, thus exposing teams to more regional heavyweights at each level of play.

The system changed two years ago and all teams that have not made it to quarter finals, meet in groups of four from where one team proceeds to the next level.

“You don’t judge the future by the present. South Africa once won the Africa Cup, but their football has declined and the teams that are thriving today were once walk-overs,” Gondwe argued.

What started as an exciting, well organised competition for Malawi, and won the hearts of all in SADC, has now been reduced to a lackluster show as the format has kept on changing at the regret of participating countries.

As SADC countries ponder over the uncertain future, analysts at home are beating the drum of rejoining Cecafa.

One time Flames player, Rodgers Yassin, said if forced to choose between the two, Malawi would be better off rejoining Cecafa.

“I would have preferred remaining in Cosafa, but the whole idea of competition has been destroyed by the new format where a team can only play two games,” said Yassin, stoking the fires of rejoining Cecafa.

He said Cosafa boasts fairly tough teams, unlike Cecafa, where teams like Tanzania, Somalia, Zanzibar, Kenya and Uganda still lag behind in soccer proficiency.

Like Gondwe he, however, said Malawi is better off aligning with Cecafa because of the clubs competition.

“You will therefore see that club champions would have a chance to meet other regional giants, thereby exposing players.

“There also used to be the Cup Winners Cup in which clubs that won more cups faced other regional cup winners. If this is still the case, then that is the direction to go,” said Yassin.

Coaches Association of Malawi executive and former national team sensational midfielder, Peterkins Kayira, said if Malawi cannot join both blocks, then it should seriously consider Cecafa, arguing that its format is more competitive.

“You talk of all national teams meeting in one country for two weeks and fighting for honours. There is great pressure which calls for commitment and endurance, a thing that lacking in Cosafa, where a whole team comes back after playing only one team.”

Kayira said because of the nature of the league basis, players have the chance to watch and learn from their colleagues.

He said although Cosafa comes with financial rewards, Cecafa still stands out if the idea is to improve football and not to make money. Cecafa only offers honours.

“We need to ask ourselves what we intend to achieve in joining these competitions; whether to make money or improve the game. I have played in the Cecafa and I must admit it teaches perseverance,” said the former Flames midfielder.

Flames assistant coach and former national centre-back Young Chimodzi said Cecafa is more enriching than Cosafa. He, however, said it all depends on policies governing the competitions.

“I am not sure how Cecafa is now run, but it used to be as powerful as Cosafa was in the early days,” said Chimodzi.

“Whatever decision we make, it should be aimed at improving our football,” said Chimodzi.

With Cosafa Vice President, Petrus Damaseb unreachable, Southern Times approached FAM president Walter Nyamilandu who would not give his personal opinion, saying doing so would be prejudicial. “However, Malawi has a history with Cecafa and there is a general feeling that we benefited a lot from the group,” said Nyamilandu.

He was of the opinion that Malawi be allowed to participate in both groups so that it complements Cosafa shortfalls with Cecafa strengths. 13 teams now compete in the annual Southern African championship and is in its 10th edition.

November 2006
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