Raising the Bar in Maltese Sports – Luke Caruana

In the most recent issue of the magazine Moving Forward, the Government unveiled its long-term plans to raise standards in sports amongst the Maltese. The Sports Strategy Commission, which was appointed by the Government for this specific purpose, emphasises the need for specific targets to measure performances and increase the skill level of local athletes.

In general, I am in favour of ambitious strategies, however, in this particular scenario I believe that the Government’s vision will completely miss the mark. The strategy mentions Great Britain’s success at the 2016 Olympics and puts this forward as an example for Malta to follow. In the United Kingdom, sports which are deemed to have potential elite success are most heavily invested in. Unfortunately, in Malta we do not have the luxury to filter ‘successful’ sports from those that might be seen as ‘unproductive’. To put it bluntly, there is no level playing field for all sports locally, and the most popular sports have a bigger advantage over others. This means that most athletes will never reach their full potential, and we will continue to achieve poor results because of the dire lack of adequate facilities and unequal distribution of investment.

As any athlete would tell you, it takes hours of training to achieve even basic fundamentals in a sports discipline, and a proper strategy should mimic a solid training plan. Focusing first on the very basic fundamentals before committing to success and higher levels of National Sports programmes. To aspire to long-term success and the goal to have successful professional athletes across a variety of sports disciplines we should: encourage sport culture in education; value all sports associations; and set-up and invest in regional sports facilities.

How can we speak about moderate success, when we don’t even encourage the culture of sports in our educational system? A Eurobarometer survey published last year, ranks Maltese youths amongst the least active in Europe. Just 11% of local youths take part in any sports activity. By shifting the focus of our curriculum from one that is mainly competitive to one that centres fun, we can start to recognise the importance of physical education from a young age in our schools and contribute to younger people’s personal development.

Different sports suit different abilities, and rather than focusing on one or two popular sports, the emphasis should be put on the introduction of different minority sports. Various sports associations bring a lot of value to our communities, yet often struggle, as they depend on time of volunteers and sponsorships alone. By simply bridging schools with their neighbouring amateur sports clubs everyone will stand to gain. On the one hand, children will be exposed to other sports that will further enhance their community skills. On the other, clubs will get the opportunity to promote their sports, themselves, and possibly even increase memberships.

To have a more diverse sports representation on a regional level, local councils should lead the administration of regional facilities. This will also ensure that facilities are allocated in a fair manner between sports. Of course, where this might not be possible, it will be necessary to invest in new facilities and renovate older complexes such as the Marsa Sports Complex, which currently inadequately serves a number of sports including, Rugby, Baseball, Softball, Netball, Basketball, and Track and Field. As Prime Minister Joseph Muscat himself has said; the economy is strong and sports can benefit from this success.

When we talk about infrastructure we should also consider the way our towns have devolved. It is unfortunate to see how our streets and squares have been reshaped to accommodate cars and parking spaces. Due to this, our quality of life has been severely affected and it is keeping children and younger people indoors. To make matters worse, other alternative and healthier modes of transport such as cycling have been totally neglected. Policies for people-friendly streets should be given precedence so that we can reclaim our well-being and quality of life.

The Sports Strategy should go back to basics. Sports is not just about measuring success, sports is also about having fun, advocating a sense of community. By slowly working on this programme, with focus and dedication, we will eventually be rewarded with many home-runs, goals, tries, and wins in the long-term.

Luke Caruana
AD Spokesperson for Youth & Sports and Mellieħa Local Council candidate