WCIP Sponsors Rumphi United

Published: 5 April 2022

WCIP researcher Walt Adamson pioneers a new relationship with the Malawian football team Rumphi United to encourage public engagement and education.

'I am a researcher working on infectious diseases in Africa, but away from the lab I am a lifelong football fan. Probably thanks to the diet of sporting mediocrity that has come from supporting Queen of the South and the Scotland national team, I’ve always had a taste for football off the beaten path: a characterful, ramshackle ground, an atmospheric support, and under-the-radar stories of past glories and failures get my vote over the latest Champions League fixture any day. Until now, the scientific and football-supporting spheres of my life have never had much overlap.

Over the past few years there has been a significant increase of sleeping sickness cases in Malawi, and the group I work in is involved in several projects investigating the causes, and what can be done to reduce case numbers. Along with the core research, we have been given funding to do public engagement work in communities affected by sleeping sickness: hearing people’s experiences of the disease, and discussing the research that we do.

Elsewhere in Africa, football has been shown to be a good route to breaking down barriers and starting conversations like these. In Rumphi in northern Malawi (the area of the country currently most affected by sleeping sickness), the local football team, Rumphi United, has just been promoted to the top league of Malawian football. On the off chance, I contacted the club to ask whether they could help us with some of our public engagement work. They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.

Rumphi United, ‘The Leopards of Chikulamayembe’ only formed in 2019, but have made great strides since: becoming champions of their region (the second tier of Malawian football) in 2021 and gaining promotion to the Super League of Malawi where they’ll face the country’s elite such as the ‘big two’ from Blantyre: Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers, as well as a host of other fantastically-named clubs.

Rumphi United’s Facebook page includes a photo of the team in their green and white kit. A kit which I couldn’t help noticing didn’t contain a shirt sponsor, and it wasn’t long before ideas were formulating in my head about how filling that space with something related to our work might help to demonstrate our association with community, and also might widen publicity about what we do whenever photos and videos of the team in action appeared in the media. Also, admittedly, the idea of sponsoring the shirt of a top-level African football team absolutely appealed to the football anorak in me.

The Leopards kicked off their 2022 league campaign on Sunday afternoon in kits carrying logo of the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology (where we do our research), as well as a newly-created web address where we will be showcasing the Centre’s public engagement work (WCIPscience.info). Unfortunately the scoreline wasn’t quite what we hoped for as the team fell to a 0-2 home defeat to Dedza Dynamos. However with the season running until November there is plenty opportunity for the team to find their way up the table, cheered on by their supporters in Malawi and their new Scottish fan club. Along the way there will hopefully be plenty of opportunities for us to work with the team as part of our activities in the area. Also from a personal point of view I can’t wait find some excuses to get to a match or two.'

Walt Adamson, Research Associate MacLeod Group

First published: 5 April 2022