News that the WSF Ambassador Programme visit to Malawi has inspired a squash facility to be included in a new OlympAfrica Sports Centre in the capital Lilongwe has been hailed by Squash Malawi President Jimmy Kawaye as “a huge, huge thing for the sport in our country”.
The WSF Ambassador Programme to Malawi, led by Malaysia’s record six-time women’s world champion Nicol David and Egypt’s former world junior champion Mohamed El Shorbagy, is a World Squash Federation initiative designed to highlight the appeal of squash in countries where the sport is in its infancy.
On arrival in Lilongwe, the WSF party was welcomed by Hon. Enoch K Chakufwa Chihana, MP, the Minister of Youth Development & Sports.
“It is a great honour for us to host your visit,” said the Minister. “There are many countries in Africa, but the fact that you have chosen to come to Malawi is very special to us.”
It was at a press conference later that Malawi Olympic Committee representative Jappie Mhango revealed that squash courts will now be featured in a new indoor sports facility which will be added to the OlympAfrica Sports Centre.
Kawaye told the assembled group, including media and Justin Saidi, Principal Secretary for the Sports Ministry, that the governing body wanted squash to be a major sport in Malawi. “We believe that squash is one of the sports in which Malawi can make its mark on the world stage.”
Andrew Shelley, CEO of the WSF, praised Malawi’s intentions – and highlighted the fact that squash is truly a global sport, played in 185 countries on more than 50,000 courts around the world.
The party was based at Lilongwe’s two-court Capital Sunbird Hotel, where David and El Shorbagy passed on tips to many of the country’s leading players and juniors – while South Africa national coach Richard Castle and World referee Mike Collins, also from South Africa, conducted coaching and refereeing workshops, respectively, over two days for attendees both from Malawi and neighbouring countries.
Malawi number one and national champion James Matewere was thrilled by his opportunity to play El Shorbagy, the world No8 from Alexandria. “I learnt such a lot – he is so deceptive. I hope this will inspire me to keep improving.”
El Shorbagy later played Aubrey Taulo, whom Matewere recently succeeded as the country’s top player. As a reward for taking a game off the Egyptian world star, El Shorbagy presented the Malawi number two with a new model of his own racket: “I am very happy to get this racket – mine is so old now. This will inspire me when I play in the Zimbabwe Open in August.”
World number one Nicol David took on Aubrey’s older brother Julius Taulo, the country’s third highest-ranked player. “It’s so good to play people like Nicol – you wouldn’t normally get the chance,” said Taulo senior.
“I lost, but it feels as if I won!”
David later went on court with Stefano Smawo, a 19-year-old Malawi hope who is being mentored by British squash enthusiast and coaching seminar attendee Gordon Benbow, headmaster of Saint Andrew’s Independent High School in Blantyre, which boasts two courts.
“I only started playing squash over a year ago, and am very grateful to Mr Benbow for helping me,” said the teenager. “It was like a dream come true to meet and play Nicol.
“I want to be the Malawi number one. Squash is what I am best at – so this is what I want to do.”
Andrew Shelley added: “We have been struck by the sheer enthusiasm to build the sport here, despite not inconsiderable difficulties. Funding to increase the number of courts, secure sponsorship for local events and initiatives, and simply to provide rackets, footwear and balls for some players, is challenging.”
The coaching and refereeing workshops proved to be highly popular and made a significant impact on the attendees, while spreading good practice in Malawi and beyond.
Participation by noted African coach Freddy Chishimba is likely to lead to the Zambian returning to Malawi to work with a group of players, including Stefano Smawo. “It’s important that we build on the experiences received by our younger players,” explained the Squash Malawi President later.
“We know our inadequacies in coaching, so this visit has given us the chance to talk to Freddy and invite him to come back to help our players. This is a great outcome,” said Kawaye.
Squash Malawi Vice President Zanga Chimombo was in no doubt as to the success of the visit. “It has not only raised the awareness of squash in the country, but raised the profile of Squash Malawi in the eyes of the sports ministry and the Malawi Olympic Committee.”
President Kawaye explained further: “We weren’t really getting much attention from the government – particularly the ministry – so this visit came at just the right time.
“It has focussed them on making a concrete commitment – and this is a huge element of what the visit has achieved.
“The coaching and the involvement of Nicol and Mohamed has given our players an extra dimension to their play,” Kawaye continued.
“The outcome of this will be better players and increased level of competition. It has also given them confidence to consider playing in regional events. James (Matewere) has been inspired to play in the forthcoming Zimbabwe Open – and he wouldn’t have done this before.
“The refereeing sessions were really useful too. We thought we were doing OK, but discovered there were many gaps in our understanding of the rules. It has inspired us to create a national body for referees.
“The media interest was also beyond our expectations. We had representatives from various outlets, including the Malawi News Agency (MANA), with us from the point of your arrival through to your departure!”
But President Kawaye admitted that the commitment to build a new squash facility in the country under the auspices of the Malawi Olympic Committee was the icing on the cake: “For us, that’s a huge, huge thing!”
The annual WSF Ambassador Programme now moves onto the second stage of the 2012 itinerary with a visit to Namibia.
Nicol David is arguably Malaysia’s most successful sports star of all-time, winning a record eighth ‘Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year’ award last year. The 28-year-old from Penang has held the Asian women’s squash title unopposed since 1998 – when aged just 14. Winner of 61 World Tour titles, including a record-breaking sixth World Open crown last November, Nicol has topped the women’s world rankings unopposed since August 2006 – a total of 74 months!
Mohamed El Shorbagy successfully defended his World Junior Championship title in 2009 – becoming only the second man in history to win the title twice. Currently the youngest player in the world top 30, the 21-year-old from Alexandria burst into the senior world top 20 just a year after his world junior triumph, and marched on to celebrate a career-high world No6 ranking at the beginning of this year.
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