BLANTYRE, MALAWI - Malawi's football governing body, the Football Association of Malawi, or FAM, says it is pulling out of the 2018 African Nations Championship, as well as the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations because of lack of funds.
The announcement this week came after the Malawi government turned down FAM's request to employ a foreign coach and provide funds for the national football team to prepare for the two international competitions.
The Malawi government rejected the football governing body's proposals soon after parliament's midterm budget review cited a reduced allocation to the Ministry of Sports, from $3 million to $1 million.
"They are looking for the government to sponsor the hiring of an expatriate coach who will be costing the government $14,000 every month for the next three years," Henry Mussa, the Minister of Sports, told VOA. "So we simply said, 'No, currently let's continue with our professional local coaches we do have.'"
But FAM officials said in a statement they expected the expatriate coach to drill the current crop of players to international levels for a better team performance. They also said the expatriate coach would mentor local coaches so that they can take over the team at the end of his contract.
Charles Nyirenda, a sports analyst and former General Secretary of Football Association of Malawi, told VOA that foreign coaches have never changed anything about Malawi's football.
"We have had several foreign coaches here who have flopped," he said. "Malawi's best-ever results at continental level were a bronze medal in All African Games in 1987. At that time, it was Mathews Mwenda [a local coach] who got us to that level and we have never performed that good ever since."
Malawi would face a fine from the Confederation of African Football for withdrawing from the continental games, according to Nyirenda.
"You can't come in, and then go out," he said. "They fine you and also they put a period of two to three years' suspension, which is the lost time in terms of the development of the game. And the rest of the world will laugh at us."
Local freelance sports journalist Patrick Lunda disagreed, saying withdrawal was the only way for FAM to make government authorities listen.
"It's a good move because these competitions are very costly and involving," he said. "They need to travel, they need allowances, preparations; if they are not sure for funding from government, what's the point of participation."
Sports minister Mussa says the government has yet to make its final decision on the matter.
"Look, the withdraw is not due yet," he said. "It is only at the end of March. The other one is sometime in April. As a parent ministry, I have requested for a second round of discussions [with FAM officials] earmarked for Friday, this week."
FAM's president and the general secretary were reportedly outside the country. Its vice president, James Mwenda, told VOA he cannot comment on anything unless delegated.
"I am not mandated to speak," Mwenda said.
Malawians hope government will reconsider its decision and meet FAM's requests for the betterment of football in the country.