Wednesday 12 June 2024, 22:15

FIFA President visits Malawi and sends condolences over passing of country's Vice President

  • Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima was among the victims in a plane crash on June 10

  • FIFA President paid his condolences at meetings with Malawi President Haiya and Dr Chilima’s widow

  • Flags flown at half-mast at Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, as a mark of respect

Gianni Infantino began his visit to Malawi by expressing his sadness and condolences following the plane crash on June 10 which claimed the lives of Vice President Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima and nine others, including former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri. The FIFA President’s day started by meeting the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President Fleetwood Haiya and the country’s Minister of Youth and Sports Uchizi Mkandawire, who joined him as Mr Infantino expressed his condolences in person to Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera. Meanwhile, the Malawi flag and those of world football’s six confederations were also flown at half-mast at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland.

“We wanted to express, with our presence, that myself, FIFA, the entire global football community is close to the people of Malawi in these tragic moments, that we are here to be together, that we are here to remind us that football unites, that we are one. “For this reason, it was important for me, for us, to come here in spite of the tragic accident that happened,” said Mr Infantino, who also met Dr Chilima’s widow, Mary, and presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a shirt bearing her late husband’s name.

"The coming of the FIFA President, indeed, is very historical. We would have loved him to come in a situation whereby, maybe, there is joy. Unfortunately, we are in grief and, to us, what we are saying is that we are sending our gratitude to him for showing solidarity during this period in sorrow. This shows that football unites. This shows, indeed, that football is happening globally," said President Haiya. "This is something that football has brought hope to Malawians while they are mourning and this is what football is supposed to do."

FIFA Secretary General Mattias Grafström, FIFA Regional Director Africa Gelson Fernandes, Head of President's Office Federico Raviglione and FIFA Legend and Lead Doha Office Houssine Kharja all joined the FIFA President on his visit to Malawi.

Mr Infantino also met the FAM Executive Committee and enjoyed a discussion with Malawi national women’s team’s star striker Tabitha Chawinga, who was voted as Italian Women's Player of Year in the 2022-2023 season while playing at Internazionale before moving to Paris Saint-Germain.

“Tabitha is a great, great football player. Definitely one of the very best out there, having played for some of the top teams and playing for some of the top teams in the world. But most importantly, I would say a role model for so many girls and women, not only in Malawi – definitely in Malawi but not only – all over Africa, all over the world,” he said. “She has a beautiful story which is actually a great success story. And we are here. We have to be here, all of us, to support Tabitha, to support what she is but also what she represents for so many girls and women around the world. And the fact that she made it and she’s making it every day is really a testimony to everyone that with resilience, with hard work, with the passion and also with talent, and you have talent in abundance here in Malawi.”

LILONGWE, MALAWI - JUN 12: Malawi National Team Player Tabitha Chawinga during FIFA President Gianni Infantino visit to Malawi on June 12, 2024 in Lilongwe, Malawi. (Photo by Kondwani Jere - FIFA/FIFA via Unrivaled Studio)

Football unites people because we believe different things but we leave everything and we go into the stadium to support the team.

Tabitha Chawinga
Malawi women’s national team forward

The visit also gave the FIFA President, who previously met Mr Haiya in December 2023 at the Football Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the chance to discuss the development work that has been done with FIFA support.

Under the FIFA-AFD (French Development Agency) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), an inclusive academy has been opened at Mzuzu and Malawi has also joined the FIFA Football for Schools (F4S) programme, which teaches football skills alongside academic and life skills. Facilities at the Chiwembe Technical Centre in Blantyre have also been extended, with the addition of a covered stand, players’ tunnel and changing rooms. This has, in effect, turned it into a mini-stadium which can be used for national team training and is a venue for junior matches, helping reduce the congestion of matches at the national stadium in Blantyre.

“We need to invest in academies, in talent development, in new development in girls football, in boys football. And all of these projects, we can do them together. We can do them as a team: Fleetwood [Haiya], myself, our teams, all working together,” the FIFA President explained. “We are discussing a training centre [in Lilongwe]. Brand new. And this is exactly what we need to reach the next level. There are no secrets. There are no miracles. The only guarantee to have results resides in hard work. And that’s exactly what Fleetwood is here for, what his team, his board is here for, his administration, general secretary, everyone, and our team together.”