Analysis by Duncan Mlanjira
Despite his involving schedule as a politician and Cabinet Minister, Volleyball of Malawi (VAM) president, Jappie Mhango still pulls the right strings to assist the sport to continue functioning as it is currently performing.
Volleyball was a very glamorous sport in the past, especially in secondary schools and the colleges, whose teams made the sport a must-watch and when its top players graduated, they joined league teams and some formed their own.
The trend is still there in which schools and colleges still participate in league games but for some period — though it was being actively played — the sport was almost incognito because it lacked publicity due to almost nonexistent corporate sponsorship support that go with glamour for every sport.
Mhango got elected as VAM president in 2004 after taking over from Mbachazwa Lungu, coming in his capacity as Central Region Volleyball League (CRVL) chairperson then.
Then he also contested for and got elected for the post of treasurer for Malawi Olympic Committee (MOC) and currently he is its secretary general (SG).
Thereafter, Mhango’s leadership ambition propelled him to try a shot at contesting for a seat in Parliament, which he won and having impressed at that level as well, he won the presidential recognition that saw him been made a Cabinet Minister, in which he currently holds the portfolio of Health and Population.
Despite joining politics and becoming a Cabinet Minister, Mhango continued with his roles as VAM president and as MOC SG, mostly because his services were required since the man also has strong passion for volleyball in general and sport in particular.
But isn’t this in conflict in mixing politics with sport as does in other disciplines such as football? “No, not all,” says Mhango in an interview.
“VAM Constitution does not bar any political position holder from continuing with his or her role or to contest for any political party.
“The onus is on the individual, such as; is he or she going to manage the affairs of both posts without compromising standards?
“Even if you ask around, the volleyball fraternity can attest that I make sure I am there when needed. Most times I delegate to my deputy or the general secretary but I give direction.
“Every time they need my input, I am always there to assist because in most instances, the president of an organisation is usually a figurehead — the rest of the operations is team work,” Mhango said.
He added that where necessary, he gets out of his ministerial office to help out inspire the corporates to consider funding volleyball or any other sport when he is wearing MOC jacket.
And true to that volleyball has won the confidence of the corporate sector, some in one off assistance, others staying on such as Raiply, who uses the sport to raise awareness against wanton cutting of trees and curbing uncontrollable bushfires in the Chikangawa forests in Mzimba.
As confirmed by VAM general secretary Jairos Nkhoma, he also managed to find sponsors in recent years like Vale Logistics and Airtel and also he has, from his personal resources, sponsored each year the teams traveling to Zone VI Championships.
Just last year, he pumped in K7.5 million for all three regional leagues in order for them to prepare for the Zone VI Championship which Malawi hosted in December.
“Leadership is about facilitating for a succession process which I am doing and along the way, the volleyball sport was impressing on me to continue running the affairs of the sport since others were not ready to take up the post.
“When the time comes for them to say ‘we are ready to take over’ I will definitely pave the way but my passion shall always been for the good of the sport.
“Even if I can go out today, I shall always be there for the sport,” said the Minister, answering the question if others don’t contest against him fearing that he might floor them at the polls.
VAM general secretary Nkhoma confirmed that as per their constitution, Mhango can vie for the position at their next elections scheduled soon, despite being a Minister.
“During the elections, the region committees and the outgoing committee are always given opportunities to stand for various positions and that the international volleyball governing boy, FIVB or the Confederation of African Volleyball (CAVB) Laws and Regulations do not restrict any one in politics not to vie for National Federation positions.
“In every position, people are elected because of their capabilities and every elections allows people to vie for any post.
“We shall have elections this year and the affiliates will decide and vie for their preferred positions and according to their capabilities.”
He confirmed that ever since his ministerial post, Mhango lets his vice-president do most of the work, “but he has been always available to assist where we need any help.
“His guidance has always been very appreciated and he always finds time to readily attend some important events,” Nkhoma said.
Speaking on his own behalf, Trust Mtegha — player/assistant coach for Central League (CRVL) top team, Mipuniro Spikers — said Malawi volleyball is a poor industry in terms of funding and as such most people shun the game and its leadership roles because it is not that easy to manage it.
“Our allocation of funding through the National Budget does not suffice to manage all activities of the sport and as you know other sports disciplines rely from partnerships with the corporate world.
“But it’s a tall order for us to secure extra funding from the private sector since it needs strong leadership with innovative minds to convince that our sport can also market their brands.”
He added that most of the teams in all regions use personal resources for them to fulfill their league assignments and that teams, such as Mipuniro of the CRVL, managed to participate at international level in Zambia last year because of personal contributions.
“Honorable Mhango has assisted with personal resources where we needed it most and I can safely say, in my own capacity as a volleyball enthusiast and without prejudice, that he has been our pillar on many occasions.
“Many people in Malawi are not interested in the game because they do not see the financial benefits to meet their selfish needs and this has also contributed to leadership vaccum in volleyball.
“There is leadership problem in our game as you can see that even at regional level, people mostly get positions unopposed. This is regardless that there is no term limit in volleyball statutes.”
He explained that people may wish to understand Mhango’s status in a way they see fit, but volleyball laws, including the VAM constitution, does not bar any person having political posts whether at the National Executive or legislative arm of Government).
“Otherwise, it’s a personal decision to either relinquish or not or to contest against him or her,” said Mtegha, former CRVL general secretary (2016-18) and a certified national referee.
Meanwhile, Mhango said only the Northern League utilized its allocation of K2.5 million from the K7.5 million he offered for all the three Leagues to help them prepare for Zone VI Championship which Malawi hosted in December, 2019.
He said the other leagues were already preoccupied with fulfilling other engagements but the money is still available for the leagues to utilize.
Each regional league was allocated with K2.5 million, of which K1 million was meant to cater for women and K1.5 for the men’s category.
“Sure, they can still access the money for their leagues now that the zonal event is gone,” Mhango said.