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The big leap: Athletics’ transformative journey in pandemic times

Athletics has been present in Maltese sporting history from time immemorial.

Our national association is one of the oldest on the island, just seven years short of its first centenary.

Athletes have been running under the Maltese flag at Olympic level since the Berlin games in 1936. Today, it is the largest individual sport in the Maltese island in terms of club affiliation and event participation, and the wider athletic and running movement is experiencing unprecedented level of growth.

Athletics in Malta is sport which has huge potential, and which in recent years was kept adrift through the strenuous efforts of a few, voluntary but immensely dedicated individuals.

It was time to take the sport to the next level. When a year ago I was approached to join Athletics Malta as its president, despite the pandemic having been around for a few months, little could one predict the obstacles we would face over the next months.

The death of our former beloved president Anthony Chircop, the resurgence of the pandemic which disrupted our racing calendar in multiple ways, a robbery at our premises to name a few.

But we soldiered on, and one year on, we can look back with satisfaction as we plan our next step forward.

One of the most visible enhancements of our organisation was a rebranding exercise which not only reflects the organisation’s modern, inclusive approach to sport, but also represents the start of a new chapter, particularly our council’s philosophy, how it functions and takes decisions.

Our work throughout the year tackled various elements, whether infrastructural or technical, but ultimately having the goal of improving the level of athletics in Malta.

I truly believe that our training facilities are a great source of motivation to our members. Any individual who is happy in their surroundings will surely train and perform better.

We have embarked on an ambitious plan of transforming the Marsa stadium into a world-class venue which enhances Malta’s proposition as a sport tourism destination. While we continue our efforts to secure the necessary funding for such a huge project, we are still implementing important upgrades to enhance the level of our major facility.

This year’s main priority was the safety of our member athletes and coaches. These include a new turnstile stadium entry system with face recognition, improvement on main stadium and warm up track lighting and the installation of CCTV system. Additionally, we secured the very essential purchase of training, competitive and electronic timing thanks to SportMalta and the Maltese Olympic Committee.

Some of the replaced equipment had been originally acquired for the 1993 GSSE games! We made sure to complement the infrastructural works with technical upgrades.

First, by evaluating our current sport climate, then preparing and immediately implementing a high-performance national team structure.

This system will seek to support Malta’s elite athletes in reaching their full potential in time for the Games of the Small States of Europe scheduled on our shores in 2023.

In parallel, we have secured a number of agreements with a number of international organisations creating significant opportunities for Maltese athletes to compete at very high levels across Europe while also opening the doors for participation in top-event educational programmes.

Our extensive and more elaborate plan for our younger generations are still being discussed by different stakeholders.

Despite the annual sporting calendar being significantly restricted with sport suffering perhaps exceedingly more than necessary in terms of local restrictions, Athletics Malta has also successfully organised the annual Summer and Winter Championships which have yielded some excellent performances from our improving athletes.

The same luck was unfortunately not reserved to our road running athletes as the popular league had to be postponed again, as was a World Tour event we had secured as an exciting end-of-season event.

All in all, the achievements of the association in such a short timeframe were remarkable, but we will not rest on our laurels.

We have exciting plans in store to ensure that this sport continues on its upward trajectory. Yet, we cannot achieve this alone. This is why we will step up our drive to give sport, not merely athletics, the attention it deserves.

The past months have been challenging for the whole population. Families unable to see their loved ones, entrepreneurs losing out on their business, children unable to go to school.

But we are a sport-loving nation, and this is an excellent tool to boost the country’s morale, our children’s health and our collective sanity. It is truly time to translate this love for sport into policy and action.

It is time to put sport at the centre of our physical and mental recovery, towards a stronger and healthier future.

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