The Olympics are in full swing. We have already entered the second week of one of the biggest sporting events on the planet, and suffice to say, we’ve been treated to many underdog stories and remarkable performances. The Maltese contingent has also participated in this year’s delayed edition and produced impressive results including Yasmin Zammit Stevens establishing a new National Record and becoming the first Maltese female weightlifter to become an Olympian, Carla Scicluna qualifying for the Women’s 100 metres first-round heats and swimmer Andrew Chetcuti placing 2nd in the heat for the 100-metre freestyle.
However, as impressive as these results may be, one wouldn’t be wrong to ask: Is that the best it can get? Looking at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, nations of similar stature, which Malta competes against at the Small Nations Games, have managed to gather medals at the largest sporting festival on the planet. San Marino, in particular, has gathered a silver and bronze medal and currently rank as the 61st country in the standings, at the time of writing. A huge feat for such a micronation. This should give us confidence that even we can achieve success on a global scale. This begs the question: Are we approaching it right?
Malta is a sport crazy island. That we cannot deny. It is therefore unfortunate that we give our utmost precedence to one sport only. Granted that football is the most popular and loved sport around the island, but is the investment being pumped into this sector justified for the results we are getting? While results have certainly improved from the Maltese national team and we were tantalisingly close to achieving promotion from our UEFA Nations League division, we are still far off from reaching the finals of any significant international competition as of the moment. Also, youth football isn’t well sustained enough to produce large crops of talented footballers due to lack of funding, lack of teams in the divisions, and the lack of quality of football being played in the Maltese divisions.
So other than our love for the beautiful game, what might be a good way to taste international sporting success? By looking at recent Maltese sporting achievements, there is one clear sport in which we might have huge potential to become elite. Waterpolo. Malta is on the back of three straight qualifications for the group stages of the European Championships, and the Under-15 national team has also achieved the same feet. This sport certainly has the potential.
One other avenue which we should consider is aquatics and water sports. The Maltese contingent at Tokyo 2020 had 2 swimmers who represented our country. At the 2019 Games of the Small States of Europe, the Maltese contingent won 10 medals in Swimming. This was a steady increase from the 7 medals won in 2017, and the 5 medals won in 2015. Swimming holds a bright future for our nation to finally have international success. I also believe that other water sports should be considered. Given Malta’s geographical position and the fact that we are surrounded by water, we should develop the necessary facilities to help mould athletes in other water sport disciplines like sailing, rowing and kayaking. All of these are disciplines that the Maltese show some interest in, so it wouldn’t be foolish to think that we couldn’t shine in them.
Therefore, heavy investment should be provided in these sectors, while adequate facilities being as much of a priority as we give to the main football facilities in Malta. It is worthy to acknowledge that some investment has already been made in the form of two indoor swimming facilities being constructed by the government, one in Malta, and one in Gozo, which should aid local athletes to improve their training. This and more might aid results to improve and we may be able to develop a group of world-beaters that can bring us glory.
Our first step should be aiming towards 2023. Malta will host the Games of the Small States of Europe for the third time in its history and it would be a perfect opportunity to announce to the rest of the world that we mean business. The government has already taken the first step by giving sports associations €5 million in assistance ahead of these games, aiding these sports disciplines in particular: athletics, basketball, judo, rugby, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis, and tennis. We know it will be difficult, but we know that it is possible. That knowledge alone should give us the determination and will power to go that extra mile and to get on that top step of the podium.