The domains of sport, business and diplomacy have generally had an under-appreciated relationship in Malawi, but it is high time Malawi took a leaf out of what the Government of Rwanda is doing from both the business and sports diplomacy perspectives. Rwanda has gone full throttle in sports team partnerships, in order to rebrand on the world stage and market themselves. Through country tourism agency Visit Rwanda the government signed deals with English Premier league side Arsenal Football Club and French Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain to promote their culture, tourism, business and brand says James Woods-Nkhutabasa.
By virtue of being Malawian born and bred, the London School of Economics and Political Science graduate Woods-Nkhutabasa has continued to focus his attention on turning observations into obligations that can lead to a positive transformation for his country and its people. His journey in life, from local Malawian, turned athlete for a brief stint where he was called up to the Malawi national football team training camp in Denmark 2009 in preparation for the African Cup of nations which was hosted in Angola in 2010; to working with the telecommunications billionaire Mo Ibrahim; to becoming a well-respected strategic communications and media specialist; to rubbing shoulders with global elites from British royalty, heads of state, sport stars and entertainers - he remains humble and focussed on his vision of bringing transformative change.
He is already playing a key role in sports diplomacy for Africa.
Nyasa Times spoke to Woods-Nkhutabasa on his involvement with Rainbow World Group (RWG) which was founded by Kingsley Pungong. RWG is a diversified holding company with interests in sports, investments and trading in Africa. The groups investments are helping to create jobs, build economies, drive prosperity, and eventually transform lives of ordinary people in Africa.
Rainbow Sports Investments (RSI), which is a division of RWG operates a global sports management company covering the entire sports value chain including but not limited to sports marketing and management, sports franchise ownership, sports financing and consulting. RSI focus is to identify, develop, nurture and manage African talent to compete at the highest level of the profession in the most competitive leagues. The group has excellent relationships and networks with the top flight and lower division clubs across Europe, Asia, Central America, North America, and the Middle East.
A few years ago, the group signed an unknown player from Cameroon, Christian Bassogog - took him from earning £25 per week, to becoming a 2017 African Cup of Nations Winner to a global superstar signing a 5-year contract in the Chinese top flight worth 35 million Euros, equating to 7 million Euros a year.
Other players on their books include Yamikani Chester, the Malawi international; Nouhou Tolo and Oivier Mbaizo, Cameroonian internationals who are plying their trade in the top tier Major League Soccer in the USA and Oyongo Bitolo who plays for Montpellier in the French top league to name a few of their clients.
Woods-Nkhutabasa, an RSI Director and partner for Malawi, told Nyasa Times that his desire is not only to promote African athletes, but to also put Malawian sporting talent on the global map and advance the attractiveness of the nation in what he terms as "sports diplomacy".
He stated that sport is a unique connecter which transcends linguistic, national, and cultural boundaries. It has the power to facilitate communication across cultures, bring people together and drive development.
Through this very aspect of identifying and promoting sporting talent we can truly use it as a tool to harnesses a variety of diplomatic ends such as women's and youth empowerment, wealth creation, intercultural understanding, non-violence education, teamwork, hard work, discipline and more. This would benefit our countries economically, socially and culturally if done right in the same way it is reaping dividends for Rwanda and others.
The globally renowned New African magazine sat down with Kingsley Pungong and James Woods-Nkhutabasa to discuss their ventures in sports and what vison they have for the African market at large.
Titled 'Polishing African sporting diamonds' the magazine reports that Rainbow Sports. founder Kingsley Pungong, said the company has been scouting African talent for many years and that it is also venturing out beyond football into basketball and other sports popular throughout the world.
The philosophy at Rainbow, says James Woods, Regional Director for Malawi and Southern Africa, where the group is looking at investing in the football infrastructure and scouting players, is to prepare their talented players not only for the ruthless world of sport but also to be able to succeed outside sport.
The group has recently bought a second division club in the Czech Republic, where they can blood their young talents and expose them to European football.
"We are listing a bond which will allow us to buy at least four European clubs," Pungong explains, "and we want to set up a developmental system within 10 African clubs. The idea is to create the premier infrastructure for transitioning top-level African athletes into top-level professional sports."
In basketball, Pungong sees Tanzania as a sleeping giant. Neighbouring Kenya has a longstanding history of producing world-class athletes. Often all that's missing is the supporting infrastructure and something to ignite that national interest and to attract talent to a sport.
Rainbow Sports has recently signed a deal with the newly formed NBA Basketball Africa League franchise to help develop African talent in the sport.
Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, a former chairperson of Malawi National Council of Sports, is an avid Arsenal supporter and his deputy Saulos Chilima a basket player and also football enthusiast - looking at this role of sports diplomacy would be key bearing in mind Malawi has a youthful bulge and abundance of talent.