By Duncan Mlanjira
FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s visit to Malawi on his African tour, was cancelled at the last minute on Wednesday until further notice because the private jet flying him and his entourage couldn’t land at Chileka International Airport due to the ongoing rehabilitation works on the main runway.
A statement from general secretary of the Football Association of Malawi (FAM), Alfred Gunda, says after carrying out a full assessment of the secondary runway, an advance team of FIFA aviation experts ruled out at the last minute that they couldn’t take a chance to land at Chileka Airport for safety reasons.
“Alternative efforts to have the plane land at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe and use other means to transport the delegation to Blantyre were not successful due to the tight schedule of the FIFA President, who was expected to arrive in the country at 2pm and leave at 7pm for Democratic Republic of Congo.
“In light of this unfortunate development, FAM is closely collaborating with FIFA on rescheduling the visit to an earliest convenient date,” Gunda says.
Infantino, who is accompanied by Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad; his special advisor Samuel Eto’o Fils as well as former French international attacking midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, started their African tour in Madagascar on Monday and were in Mozambique on Tuesday where they were to proceed to Malawi.
Gunda said though this is not the outcome they expected, FAM is sincerely grateful for the confidence that FIFA has shown in earmarking Malawi as one of the destinations for their next tour of Africa.
“We remain hopeful that this will materialize having received the assurance from FIFA.
“FAM sincerely regrets any inconvenience this may cause knowing fully well that soccer loving Malawians and the general public were excited with the visit,” Gunda said in the statement issued on Wednesday, November 27.
During his visit, Infantino and his entourage, that include FIFA GS Fatma Samoura, was expected — among other matters — to inaugurate FAM’s Mpira Stadium and its youth development academy.
There was also supposed to be a ceremonial match involving Malawi Legends against the team of FIFA/FAM officials that was to include Infantino himself, FAM president Walter Nyamilandu, Eto’o, Djorkaeff — the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2000 winner — who is now the FIFA Foundation CEO.
The country’s former football maestro, Ernest ‘Wire’ Mtawali, was expected to lead the team of former Flames greats that included stars such as Patrick Mabedi, Chancy Gondwe, Swadick Sanudi, Joseph Kamwendo, Fischer Kondowe, among others.
Legendary coach Kinnah Phiri was to be in charge of the FIFA/FAM team with Yasin Osman for the Flames Legends.
One big anticipation fans had for the event was to see Eto’o first hand, who has never been in the Cameroon team the Flames have played with both at home and away.
Fans were eager to see the African football legend, who is the two-time African Cup of Nations champion; a three-time UEFA Champions League winner and one-time Olympic Games champion.
The match was to be one of the activities that was lined up for Infantino’s visit, whose main objective was to some of the projects which are being funded under his FIFA Forward initiative.
This is not the first visit of a FIFA president — former boss Sepp Blatter visited in 2002 when late John Zingale was FAM president to inaugurate the construction of what is now known as Mpira Village at Chiwembe in Limbe, which was under funding from his FIFA Goal Project.
Nyamilandu carried on with the project to what it is as a complex that has offices, a gym, accommodation hostels and the Mpira Stadium.
Infantino’s delegation also comprise FIFA Deputy General Secretary Football Mattias Grafstrom, FIFA Acting Head of Member Association Veron Mosengo-Omba, FIFA Head of Communication Onofre Costa, FIFA Presidents Office Manager Federico Raviglione and FIFA Regional Development Officer David Fani.
In Antananarivo, the FIFA president met President of the Republic of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina, as well as hold meetings with Malagascar FA president and members of his executive committee.
After the DRC, the FIFA delegation is expected to also visit Lesotho, Angola and Congo.