A sporting legacy beyond infrastructure

The GSSE experience should not pass us by, without having a long hard look at how we, as a country, deal with sports

The Games of the Small States of Europe – currently being held in Malta, for the first time since 2003 - are as much about the success Maltese athletes may achieve, as the sporting legacy the competition itself will leave behind.

One hopes that the number of medals the Maltese team will win by the end of the games on Saturday will be a record haul. Success is not everything, naturally; but it is an important element to motivate athletes and followers of the respective sporting disciplines.

For elite athletes, stepping onto the winning podium is a crowning moment in their career; and this leader hopes many Maltese athletes will savour glory in front of their home crowd.

But the GSSE is also about legacy with the most obvious aspect being the new or refurbished infrastructure that will continue being enjoyed after the games are over.

Unfortunately, certain investments spurred by Malta’s organisation of the games did not materialise in time to be used. The indoor pool complexes at Cottonera and Victoria, and the tennis centre in Pembroke, are just a few of the multi-million euro projects that are still under construction. Hopefully, these projects will come to fruition over the next few months to offer athletes world class venues where to train and play.

But more importantly is the manner by which these sport complexes are managed. The experience with the Ta’ Kandja shooting range is not one that should be emulated. The range remains incomplete and underutilised despite the investment that was poured into it for the 2018 shooting world cup.

It is useless building infrastructure, without having a proper management structure in place that maximises the potential of the venue and ensures regular maintenance is done.

This brings us to the other aspect of legacy that looks beyond infrastructure. Legacy is also about creating robust organisational structures and identifying long-term investment strategies that benefit athletes, coaching staff, administrators and young people who want to do sports.

Sports associations must be helped to professionalise their set-ups. Elite athletes must be supported in their need to participate regularly in international competitions. Income support schemes must be created to enable these athletes train for longer hours.

Winning medals, including at the Olympics, can only come about if our athletes put in the training and competitive hours necessary to perfect their skill. Success in sports is not a matter of luck, but hard work.

Associations must also be encouraged and supported to attract international events to Malta.

At school level, sports activities must be an integral part of the national curriculum: as opposed to ‘just an afterthought’. Physical education must not remain a peripatetic subject, but each school should have its own sports teachers with lessons held at least twice weekly and competitive events organised regularly.

Community facilities must be created to encourage children and young people, who do not necessarily harbour aspirations to become elite athletes, to enjoy sports activities with friends.

A holistic approach is needed and international events such as the GSSE should be used as occasions to evaluate where the country is, where it wants to go and how to get there.

Sports helps foster national pride and community spirit but it also can be an economic niche. The big events like the GSSE - and the UEFA U-19 football championship, that will be held in Malta in July – create short-term tourism boosts with invaluable publicity for the country. But there is also the potential to have an all-year-round economic spin-off by attracting training camps and minor competitions.

The GSSE experience should not pass us by, without having a long hard look at how we, as a country, deal with sports.

Other than that: this leader wishes the Malta team every success, at this year’s GSSE.