Looking back at the GSSE: The highs, the lows and the future

After Malta's dominant performance at the Games for the Small States of Europe last week, MaltaToday looks at the positives, negatives, and the future of less-popular sports in the country

Malta last week was awash with sporting pride as its athletes made a clean sweep of medals in the Games for the Small States of Europe. 

It was a rare occurrence but one that saw Team Malta top the medals table for the first time in the games’ history. Malta finished the week-long sporting bonanza with a record-breaking 97 medals, including 38 gold medals across all sporting disciplines. 

Malta’s previous best performance in the GSSE, which are open to European states with fewer than 1 million people, was a fourth place in the two previous editions it has hosted – in 1993 and 2003 – as well as in the 2011 games held in Liechtenstein. 

The last edition, which was held in Montenegro in 2019 saw Malta place a disappointing seventh. 

In what has been hailed a resounding success by pundits and fans alike, we look at the positives, the negatives and what the future of less-popular sports in the country looks like.  

The high point 

The work towards record-breaking results in the GSSE started years ago. Malta Olympic Committee (MOC) Director Charlene Attard explained in an interview how the preparations for the games started in 2017. 

The games saw the MOC, SportMalta, and the individual federations of each sport collaborating towards funding, training and supporting athletes in their respective categories to ensure optimal performance during the GSSE.  

In 2021, a record €4.9 million from the National Development and Social Fund was handed to the 10 sport federations which represented Malta in the games. A previous €2.7 million had also been granted to the MOC by government to disseminate amongst affiliated federations. 

Team Malta’s biggest success was in athletics, finishing the games with 15 gold medals, seven silver medals and ten bronze medals.  

Several new national records were also set during the games, with Graham Pellegrini in the 400m and Carla Scicluna in the 200m topping the national charts. Jordan Gusman also set a new GSSE record in the 5,000m race.  

Women athletes were the top performers with Gina McNamara winning four medals (three gold and one silver), Claire Azzopardi winning three medals (all gold), Georgi Kate Bohl (two gold, one silver and one bronze) and Janet Richard winning four medals (two gold, one silver and one bronze).  

The squash men and women teams also recorded notable wins, taking home five gold medals, four silver and one bronze.  

Swimmers registered the second highest medal tally, winning four gold medals, six silver medals and seven bronze medals. 

The low point  

While athletes delivered in their respective fields, it was government who failed to deliver on its promise for new sports facilities for the GSSE.  

The €14 million Cottonera Sports Complex indoor pool, the €16 million pool in Victoria, Gozo, the €3 million tennis complex in Pembroke and the €9 million indoor squash and weightlifting complex in Marsa were all not completed on time.  

The projects’ incompletion forced SportMalta to enter into agreements with alternative, some outdated, venues to host the games. To put this into perspective, the swimming events were held at the National Swimming Pool at the Tal-Qroqq Sports Complex which was built for the 1993 GSSE.  

Instead of the promised six new tennis courts at one venue and the eight new squash courts at another venue, arrangements had to be made with the Marsa Sports Club where the tennis and squash competitions were held.  

To top it all, some of these incomplete projects have also exceeded their budgets by millions - the Victoria pool is already €7 million over budget and the tennis complex in Pembroke is expected to cost €1.6 million more. 

The future  

Despite the resounding success, the life of an athlete allows you little down time, as the next competition always draws near.  

Team Malta will now be heading for the much tougher 2023 European Games which will be held in Kraków and Małopolska, Poland later this month.  

Next year, the ultimate competition for any athlete – the Olympics – will be held in Paris, France, and securing a spot in the world’s elite competition is no easy feat.  

The question remains – will government fund sports just because it is hosting an international event, or will it sustain its backing for Malta’s elite athletes for the long-term?