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Rowing Association baffled by authorities decision to revoke permits for Freedom Day Regatta

The Għaqda Regatta Nazzjonali has criticised the Health Authorities decision to postpone this year’s Freedom Day Regatta which was due to be held this weekend as part of Yachting Malta Racing Week.

The regatta, which initially was pencilled for March 31, was due to be held this weekend following the authorities decision to relax COVID-19 measures with non-contact sport events given the go-ahead to return this week.

However, last week the Health Authorities failed to issue its permit to hold the regatta at the Valletta Grand Harbour as the venue constituted a threat of attracting a mass group of spectators.

In a statement, the Malta Rowing Association said that Health Authorities are not understanding the repercussions the umpteenth cancellation of the regatta will have on the rowing community.

“Despite the various announcements that sports may resume and that “organized competition, leagues and events for non-contact sports can recommence with no spectators”, there still seems to be major hurdles to overcome as the Health Authorities are still not permitting important competitions to take place,” the governing body said in a statement.

“The sports of rowing was the first victim of this ban with attempts to organise rowing races in the Grand Harbour being quashed without taking much notice of the ill-effect on the mental health of Maltese rowers.”

The association said that in March the clubs had unanimously agreed that the regatta should be held as soon as competitions could resume, “with a maximum cut-off date of June 7 due to logistical reasons”.

“. When an announcement was made on the 25th April that non-contact sports will continue, without spectators as from the 10th May, a request was made by the Association to hold the regatta races on May 15,” the association said.

“This application included the findings of a risk assessment exercise carried out by the association at its expense and details of all the measures and protocols to be adopted. This request was turned down and we were informed that the legal notice referred only to training.”

The statement said that when a second much publicised announcement was made by the Superintendent of Public Health and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health that as from the 24th May “organized competition, leagues and events for non-contact sports can recommence with no spectator” a second application was filed to hold the regatta on May 29.

“The association made it clear that arrangements had been made to live stream the races and to broadcast the regatta Live on TVM2. The association further ensured that strict measures were in place to guarantee that the public would not be given access to the regatta racecourse from any possible vantage point,” the statement said.

“To fully safeguard that the regatta would not be open to spectators, the bastions surrounding the grand harbour and the shoreline were to be closed off. These places included the areas close the Valletta Water Front (Pinto 4 and 5, the road leading from Valletta waterfront to the Customs Office and its vicinity, Telgha tal-Kurcifiss, etc.) and the Cottonera Waterfront (The bastion known as il-Gardjola, the area known as il-Ponta ta L-Isla`, etc.). Access by sea was also restricted and guarded by TM and ALE.

“In addition, all Clubs publicly announced that no persons without permission would be allowed near their premises with a number of clubs making agreements with local Police, TM and Local councils to help them enforce this ‘no-access’ policy.”

The association said that on Friday, May 21, when all necessary permits and preparations were made in line with all guidelines issued by the health authority, the Superintendent of Public Health publicly announced that permission was not to be given.

“Furthermore, to the surprise of the Association, rowers and Clubs, on the same day, the Health Authority decided to suspend the measures related to sport for about 72 hours,” the statement added.

“The Association and the majority of member Clubs agreed that a that a third and final attempt was to be made to organise the rowing races on the 6th or 7th June.

“This third request was made in view of what was said in the press event, which once again raised in vain the hopes of our athletes, and in view of the fact, the guidelines for sports had been re-instated. The answer to this third official request, made on the behalf of all participating Clubs, was a straight and clear “NO” because of possible spectators being present.

“At this point, one cannot refrain from questioning what might have changed since last September when the incidence of COVID-19 was higher than in May 2021, particularly in view of the fact that much more stringent measures were now in place to ensure that spectators would not be permitted. (Last September, the authorities only requested that Pinto 4/5 and Customs’ Area were to be closed.)”

The association concluded its statement by saying that while it was still attempting to identify what and/or who is behind this ban, we would like to thank the rowers and their families for all the sacrifices done from January till last Friday, when, following circumstances beyond our control, the regatta races were brought to an abrupt halt despite the fact that all necessary permits and preparations were made in line with all guidelines issued by the Health Authority.

“The Association also thanks Mr Mark Cutajar and SportMalta who accompanied and helped us through the whole process, the Hon. Dr Clifton Grima, the Hon. Julia Farrugia and the Hon. Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela who remained loyal to our quest to be permitted to row and practice our sport,” the statement concluded.

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