Football dominates the sporting agenda in many countries but in landlocked Malawi the beautiful game has a rival.

Netball, a women's only sport, has been given equal status in the African nation and it is paying dividends on the court.

Malawi is currently ranked sixth in the world - a highly impressive position for a country of its size.

There are now dreams of pinching a medal at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games after the Africans were unlucky to miss out on the semi-finals at Gold Coast 2018.

The team known as the Queens shocked now world champions New Zealand with a 57-53 victory, and were only eliminated from last four contention on goal difference.

Mwai Kumwenda, who plays in Australia, is the star player but there are others who ply their trade overseas and the squad will only improve.

This is an inspiration for girls growing up in Malawi, who have a clear target to aim for.

"Companies and the Government have invested in netball a lot," said Henry Sakala, Malawi's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022, to insidethegames.

"This gives the chance of competing at local level. 

"Netball is equally funded like what they do with football, although in football we don't go as far as the World Cup, we are eliminated in the preliminaries!

Mwai Kumwenda is a star player for the Malawi netball team ©Getty Images
Mwai Kumwenda is a star player for the Malawi netball team ©Getty Images

"But for netball, the Government supports the sport heavily and the companies come in to sponsor the sport.

"We can proudly say that we have netball as a sport which is doing fine in the country." 

Malawi is also hoping to bolster its Birmingham team in other sports and could have a team size of around 30.

Sakala said the country is hoping to compete in athletics, boxing, judo and swimming.

Boxers have won all of Malawi's three Commonwealth Games medals - all bronzes - with the last podium finish coming in Edinburgh in 1986.

"We are preparing our athletes for the Games," Sakala said. "Some of the sports still need to qualify.

"We are trying to prepare our athletes fairly so that we bring a team which can compete rather than just participating.

"In boxing we have also got potential."

Like in every country, the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered Malawi's preparations.

"Of late, the number of cases has dropped drastically," Sakala said.

"But we were at a standstill where athletes could not train. It affected us a lot but now we are trying to pick up. 

"Now, athletes are training and games are being organised. 

"For example, athletics just had their championships. The boxing guys are having their championships. So now it's opening up." 

Sakala was team manager in Gold Coast and will be Chef de Mission for the first time in Birmingham.

"Malawi has given me full responsibility this time around," he said.

The country will welcome the Queen's Baton Relay in November as part of the African leg.

Malawi's netball team shocked New Zealand at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images
Malawi's netball team shocked New Zealand at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images

"Since we started participating, Malawians do watch the Games," he said. 

"We get the Queen's baton before the Games, that event reminds people that the Games are on. 

"The media normally cover it fully to make sure people are aware that the Commonwealth Games are indeed taking place. 

"We are getting the Birmingham baton in November so that will add more excitement.

"What we are praying for is the pandemic to be eliminated come 2022.

"If this continues it will actually spoil the whole process.

"Without spectators at the arenas, it doesn't give you much excitement. 

"Competitors are excited when they see people watching them. 

"Let's just pray that this pandemic goes away and that we have good Games like before."