ZOMBA, MALAWI —
Having never qualified for the Olympics, Malawi has set its sights on the 2020 games. Up until now, its athletes have always participated on solidarity grounds.
But Malawi’s government and the country’s national football association hope to change all that. As part of the plan they kicked off a nationwide football talent search over the weekend for girls aged six to 12.
There was pomp and jubilation at the inaugural talent identification exercise over the weekend at Zomba community ground.
About 300 young girls took part in the FIFA-funded program known as Girls Grassroots Festival. More than 40 young footballers were selected for training.
James Sangala, the Youth Football Development Officer at the Football Association of Malawi, says it’s just the beginning of the process.
"We will be tracking their progress, and one day when their names appear on the national ranks, you will see these girls playing in the national team," Sangala said.
Malawi is trying to build a championship women’s soccer team from the ground up.
Coaches for the Malawi's Girls Grassroots Football program are seen getting ready to train a group of girls, in Zomba, Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA)
Early investment needed
Sangala, a former player for the Malawi men’s national football team, said the country needs to invest in sports development from a young age if it hopes to compete on the international stage.
"Because what we were doing is that we were incorporating those girls who are already grown up. So this is one thing we are also having problem with the men's football team because some of the guys didn't go through sports development," Sangala said.
Deborah Simbeye, 11, one of the girls selected for the training, said football will help her pursue bigger goals.
“I decided to join the program because I can now see the future in female football. I believe through football I will have a chance to travel to various places, including America,” Simbeye said.
The program has also earned support from the Malawi government, which recently facilitated a coaching course for teachers from government-owned primary schools to be trainers for the girls.
The next talent search will be held in the capital Lilongwe and in Mzuzu City in November.