More than a sporting chance | Julia Farrugia Portelli

We want to give persons with a disability more than a sporting chance to help them feel equal in a fair and devoted society, and the best way to do that was to make sure it is an on-going process, a work in progress, that has secure, adequate and long-lasting foundations

A mere few days ago the strong and dedicated community of persons with a disability, their families, the various NGOs, regulators and academia, as well as ourselves in the administration of the country happily acknowledged the fact Malta had edged one step closer towards adopting her first National Disability Strategy after the second public consultation in the unprecedented space of just five years, closed on 7 July.  

No hue and cry for celebration given the amount of work that still lies ahead and the targets we have placed in our own sights, but certainly an important milestone achieved on our path towards establishing social inclusion as a firm and durable foundation based on national and international conventions and commitments. In our case as an administration, it is all part of a socio-political objective coming to fruition and, in the process, auguring even better achievements among them, most important, the principle of equality. 

We want to give persons with a disability more than a sporting chance to help them feel equal in a fair and devoted society, and the best way to do that in a lasting and affirmative manner was to make sure it is an on-going process, a work in progress, that has secure, adequate and long-lasting foundations. On this basis, it was to be expected that other than just working for the attainment of all rights, as reflected in the National Strategy 2021-2030 “The Freedom to Live” submitted for public consultation, we had to get to the nitty gritty of providing real and reliable platforms and networks based on the hard-won maxims carved in stone of “Nothing about us, without us” and “No one is left out”. 

There is no better arena than that of sport inside which the veracity of such a commitment to equality can be confirmed. It is precisely where our allegiance to equality in all its various dimensions can be exhibited and used as a timely tool determinedly tweaking Maltese society to the levels we all seek and aspire to, irrespective of ideologies and petty politics. It is where solidarity can and should be shown not just as an example but as confirmation. Our cooperation with and support to different sports organisations is testament to our mission, backed as it is and will always be by persons with a disability themselves, their loved ones and the rest of the community. 

European football has just come out with great honours from the riveting experience of Euro2020, but at the lower echelons, national and even village strata, there is a sport giving opportunities to all through participation, support and, where needed, customised access to each and every citizen and to people of all ages. The €6 million investment made by the Ministry for Inclusion and Quality of life and the Parliamentary Secretariat for Sport, Recreation and NGOs for the MFA to redo the playing surfaces of all football grounds (55 in Malta and 13 in Gozo) is all part of our recognised focus on providing the best, state-of-the-art facilities which can be enjoyed by our young men and women in equal share with persons with a disability. 

Perhaps even higher up towards a clearer peak, is yet another €7 million project which will see the restructuring and embellishment of the Day Centre for Persons with a Disability at Mtarfa. The centre, one of eleven run by Aġenzija Sapport, will have its facilities refurbished, its surroundings restructured and the set-up to feature gardens, multi-sensory gardens, belvedere and recreational spaces for persons with a disability, including access to those who need a wheelchair. It is, once again, yet another proof of a government intent on reaching its objectives in the sacrosanct belief that every single person with a disability must feel an integral part of an inclusive society, with equal rights as every other citizen in the country. 

We also believe in targeting specific segments within the sector, as the recent agreement between the Ministry for Inclusion and Quality of Life and the Autism Parents Association on the use of the newly-inaugurated obstacle course racing facility at Qrendi amply shows. With the support of The Club Fitness Centre, children with this condition will be able to attend free weekly training sessions during which they can make use of multi-sensory equipment. 

The creation of an obstacle course racing on what was a piece of derelict land, thanks to a €20,000 investment by the Ministry, will also benefit the local community in the area with the introduction of various sports activities, the perfect scenario of a sharing society and an example of collaboration between government and the private sector to help autistic children and their families achieve a better quality of life. 

The owner of The Club Fitness Centre, Mr Julian Briffa, certainly deserves our appreciation for his commitment to providing sporting and recreational activities for these children and their families. He lucidly described how the project is based on three pillars: 1. the provision of better sports facilities for the community, 2. an assertion of inclusion within a safe and secure environment for autistic children, and 3. the availability of free physical exercises and socialisation among the people of Qrendi and the surrounding areas. 

It is, indeed, giving people with different needs and different aspirations more than a sporting chance to succeed in life, to enjoy equal rights and to be a part of a Maltese nation that makes of solidarity and inclusion a reflection of its maturity into an egalitarian society.