African gold could be forged in the gyms of Gloucester this summer as athletes from Malawi walk the final trail to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Swimmers, track and field athletes, boxers and weightlifters will train at venues across Gloucestershire – but it is the netball team that carries the nation’s best hope in the hunt for medals.
The team of around 50 athletes have set up camp at the Oxstalls Campus of the University of Gloucestershire. It will be their temporary base for the next 12 days before they head north for the start of the Commonwealth Games on July 23.
But one team not making the final training camp is the Malawi bowls team.
“Lawn bowls is a new team for Malawi but unfortunately they have not arrived with the rest of the team,” said team general manager John Kaputa, a former professional footballer once coached by Sir Bobby Robson at Lilleshall.
“We have not bought the athletes with us. It was planned that they should take part in the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, but two days ago we found out that it was not possible for them to come with us.
“Unless something changes at home, they will not be competing.
“It is something to do with financial matters, it was supposed to be paid for them , but it has not happened.
“That could change of something improves at home.”
The team, comprising the world-renowned Malawi national netball team, nicknamed ‘The Queens’ – who are ranked fifth in the world – will include swimmers, track and field athletes, boxers and weightlifters. There will also be table tennis players, cyclists and a judo team, as well as coaches, team doctors and managers.
Back in the summer of 2012, a much smaller Malawi team of six athletes held their training camp in Gloucestershire in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics. A Gloucestershire Consortium, made up of the University, Gloucester City Council, Cheltenham Borough Council, Sandford Parks Lido and Aspire Sports and Cultural Trust, brought the Olympic team to the county and provided facilities for their training camp in the county.
John, who was not part of the 2012 Olympic visiting team, added: “The facilities here are very good.
“We have visited each one and been very impressed.
“They will enhance the performance of each sport that is covered by our athletes.
“Success requires a long term development plan and we have focused for a long time on coming to Gloucestershire.
“If we are successful, the profile of the university will be raised and that will be good for Gloucester too.
“In our country we have the human capacity of coaches, but not the facilities.
“My ambition with this team is to get a few medals, it does not matter what colour – but a gold would be a wonderful achievement. The university will hopefully play its part in that.
“We are fifth in the world in netball – we want to improve on that.
“Our athletes in track performed well in India and our boxers have performed well in Africa – but this is a world event. It is a step up for many of them.
“Our netball team is playing England and Hucclecote to prepare for the games, we want a test to help us be ready to win medals in Scotland.”
Chikondi Makawa, a 75kg middleweight boxer bidding for glory, said: “I’m sure Gloucester can help us to prepare very well to achieve success.
“My ambition is to bring a gold medal back to Malawi.
“I have a dream of watching them raise the flag and play the anthem of my country.
“My coach is doing everything that he can to help us. I’ve been boxing since 2008, it is an exciting time for us.”
There are set to be many highlights during the team’s visit, including the welcome event, visits to local schools, an appearance at the University of Gloucestershire All Golds match against Hemel Stags on Sunday.
The ‘Malawi Queens’ netball team – whose coaching setup includes the legendary Mary Waya – take on England A at GL1 in Gloucester on Saturday, with a 2.30pm start.