By Duncan Mlanjira
Malawi National Council of Sports is working towards securing not less than MK500 million to continue rehabilitating BAT Ground into a modern stadium able to host local and international games.
Sports Council acting Executive Secretary, Henry Mereka said in an interview the first phase of the project, that included construction of block wall perimeter fence, guard houses, ticket booths and associated works, have been completed and the contractor is ready to hand over the site.
The first phase of the project, designed and supervised by Department of Buildings, was worth close to MK124 million and funded by the Sports Council itself through the 25% levy it gets from the gate collections from all stadia during games.
Mereka said second phase targets orientation of the pitch so that it faces the recommended side since the target is to turn it into a modern stadium that will host both local and international games.
“The second phase also targets at working on the turf which we want to maintain as natural for easy maintenance,” he said.
“We plan to have a capacity of minimum of 15,000 for the stadium but the Minister of Sport Hon. Ulemu Msungama requested if we could consider increasing it to a 20,000-seater.”
There will also be changing rooms, ablution facilities for spectators and also other entertainment amenities that mainly include sport shops and take away food stalls to offer drinks and snacks for spectators.
He said there is a provision of a carpark mainly for VIPs and team buses as they are also mindful of the fact that modern stadiums do not encourage carparks to avoid congestion and/or stampedes.
“Funds permitting we would want to handle all in second phase so that the stadium becomes usable. All the drawings have been done by the department of buildings,” Mereka said.
“We are still requesting the government to finance the project but efforts are being made to identify and involve other partners.”
According to reports, the ground was built by the cigarette manufacturing company British American Tobacco (BAT) for recreation of its staff during the week and allowed the football association to use it at a token fee of 1 tambala per annum.
When BAT closed its Malawi factory, they sold the facility to Malawi Government for a reported MK25 million.
All the maintenance before hand over was done by the company as a social responsibility and everything like underground water system, electricity, the wooden stands, food stalls, ablution block, changing rooms were in place when government bought it.
Commenting on Facebook when people asked what plans are underway for the nolstagic soccer mecca, Spencer M’baka reminisced having watched at close range the stars of the golden years such as Kinnah Phiri, Jack Chamangwana, Harry Waya, Barnet Gondwe and others.
Gulam Pinto agreed that the stars that played at BAT Ground were part of the squad that helped Malawi win their first East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup in 1978 and managed to retain it the following year.
Limbani Magomero remembers that the gate charges then were at 20 tambala for adults and 10 tambala for kids but Magomero reminisced how tough it was to raise the 10t.
Magomero’s father worked for BAT and their official residence was just on the perimeter fence and he disclosed that when he and his siblings could not raise the gate charges, they just watched the games free from their house’s rooftop.
“The 10t was a lot of money then. These were days we were getting 5t for use at school. Those tambalas had value,” Magomero said.