Confusion reigns over sport ban as padel players spotted on court

COVID-19 restrictions that ban organised sport activities are ‘very ambiguous’ Sport Malta chief says

Photos taken over the weekend show players engaging in a game of padel, a relatively new sport akin to tennis
Photos taken over the weekend show players engaging in a game of padel, a relatively new sport akin to tennis

A number of people were seen playing padel, a racquet sport, at Manoel Island over the weekend despite COVID-19 restrictions banning all sporting activity.

However, it remains unclear whether the players breached the rules introduced last week that banned “organised sport activities”.

Photos sent to MaltaToday show players practicing padel at courts on Manoel Island in Gżira and another unidentified location.

Padel, a relatively new sport played like tennis, is organised by IK Padel, a private organisation.

When contacted on Monday, a spokesperson for the organisation said the ban on sport was for “organised sports activities”, and insisted the players were a maximum of four on court, which is the limit allowed at law.

However, she directed this newspaper to contact the operator of the courts in Manoel Island, a Gżira Utd official. Attempts to contact the club president proved futile.

MaltaToday has reached out to the health authorities on the matter but no reply has been forthcoming so far.

But the situation remains uncertain with the chairperson of Sport Malta, a government entity, insisting the legal notice published last week was “very ambiguous”.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Luciano Busuttil said Sport Malta is not in a position to give a definition of the terminology “organised sport” that was used in the legal notice.

“Sport Malta was not consulted for advice on the matter and so cannot officially define what the terminology means,” Busuttil said. He also noted that the fine contemplated at law is directed towards the organisation and not the players.

He added that as a lawyer his personal interpretation would be that two people, who book a tennis court and are using their own equipment, would not constitute organised sport since it would be no different from two people who go for a picnic and string up a net to play volleyball.

“The legal notice has not stopped clubs from operating, unlike what we had last year,” Busuttil said.

He called for a clear differentiation between leisure sports activities and professional athletes, who have to train to remain fit.

“I have no qualms with a decision to stop leisure sports activities if this is necessary from a health perspective, or to stop contact sport because of its risk but athletes who train to compete have to be allowed the space to continue training within well-defined safety protocols,” Busuttil said.

All “organised sport activities” were prohibited by legal notice last week. The fine for breaching the rules runs to €6,000 and is applicable to “any person officially responsible for a sporting organisation”.

The only exception applies to national Maltese sport teams at the absolute discretion of the Public Health Superintendent and only in “exceptional or necessary cases including international games”.