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Sports Development in the Maltese Islands

Maltese administrators on the rise following the departure of the British

The game of boċċi in Malta is probably the oldest traditional sport in Malta.

Last week, we saw how there was a severe increase in the number of sporting organisations that were formed in Malta and Gozo after the country’s Independence in 1964.

However, as the years passed, local sport administrators gradually started to take the upper hand and, in fact, by the time that the British Services departed from Malta in 1979, a good number of associations were thriving.

Yet the greatest boom of new national sport associations was to be witnessed over the next 20 years until the dawn of the new millennium.

It is to be noted that during these two decades the impact of British involvement subsided as the Maltese took the initiative and also roped in foreign assistance from mainland Europe and away from the continent.

With netball being played in Malta ever since it was introduced to the island by the wives of members of British Services around 1950, following a lull in activity in the early 70s, the sport was revived again in 1976 through the intervention of the Ministry for Sport when competitions started again on national level at Marsa.

Various clubs started mushrooming all over the island leading to the establishment of the Malta Netball Association in 1980. The oldest surviving club is All Ages, founded in 1979, and is based in Kirkop.

The game of boċċi in Malta is probably the oldest traditional sport in Malta as local historian John Bezzina had, in fact, discovered documented proof that a very similar game to boċċi, the ‘Maglio’, used to be practised by the Order of St John in the proximity of Valletta during the sixteenth century.

Yet, it was only in 1983 when the Federazzjoni Klabbs tal-Boċċi was formed after the Ministry for Sport had constructed a number of pitches in various towns and villages with Żabbar, in the southern area, and Lija, in the northern area, being among the first.

A visit to Malta in the same year by representatives and coaches from the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball helped tremendously in the foundation and development of the Malta Baseball & Softball Association.

Baseball in Malta first started in 1980 when Dr Fredericks, an American doctor, started to teach softball to students at Stella Maris College in Gżira.

As the activity grew in popularity, Dr Fredericks then moved to the Marsa Sports Complex where he converted to teaching baseball. His players consisted mainly of Canadian and US citizens living in Malta as well as children of returning migrants from the USA, Canada and Australia.

At first, a group of scrabble enthusiasts used to play the game in their private homes until it was decided to put up an advert in the local media to all scrabble players on the island to form a club. By October 1984 there were enough members to form the first committee and a month later the first National Championship. The club’s first headquarters were situated in a hotel in Ta’ Xbiex.

A year later Kancho Adrian Axisa was the first to introduce kick boxing classes and competitions. During that same year, the Malta Kick Boxing Association was founded paving the way for the first inter club kick boxing tournament that was held at the Deporres Hall in Sliema.

Kancho Axisa was also the mastermind behind the establishment of Spirit Combat International (Malta) during the same year at the Safari Sanctuary in Sliema.

Gradually, a number of clubs started to be established around the country such as in Burmarrad (St Paul’s Bay) and Għargħur in the north, Żejtun in the south, as well as in Gozo.

The Assoċjazzjoni Sport Muturi u Karozzi was also founded in 1985 at Mtarfa with Noel Farrugia elected as the Founder President.

In its early days the ASMK started organising trial competitions while later Motocross was introduced. Eventually the ASMK was allocated a piece of land at Ta’ Qali (Attard) where a track was built. Autocross was introduced four years later while in 1994 banger racing was added on.

1985 saw another national association take off – the Malta Drag Racing Association.

In 1965, the English Military Personnel started racing against each other almost every weekend at Miżieb (St Paul’s Bay) with cars like Bentley, Austin 7’s and Jaguars.

Years passed and some Maltese speed enthusiasts started racing their personal cars on regular roads, especially the one leading to Armier (Mellieħa).

Then in 1977 everyone shifted to Ta’ Qali (Attard) which was then an unused English military base and included an airfield.

Races were organised over a distance of a whole mile until eventually in 1985 the MDRA was established at the newly built Ħal Far (Żurrieq) circuit.

Months later, the Malta Squash Rackets Association was founded in 1986 with its first president being Gino Camilleri.

Competitions originated at the Marsa Sports and Country Club and continue to be held on annual basis yet nowadays the sport has flourished with no less than 21 courts scattered around Malta and Gozo.

The BMX Association Malta had a humble beginning, also in 1986, with a small track by the popular seaside resort of Sliema.

This was part of a vision set out by the founder president John Zammit who was also instrumental in the association’s transfer to a more modern track in Pembroke that continued to be developed over the years. Today, the association also boasts a fully-fledged indoor circuit complex close by.

During the same year, the Malta Triathlon Association was founded by Dr Peter Borg Costanzi in collaboration with Steve Trew, the British triathlon national coach, following great interest shown in this sport by several Maltese athletes.

From the humble beginnings around Balluta Bay in Sliema, the areas of Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq and Salini became and still are household routes for national events.

During the season the association and clubs themselves also organise other events at various vintage points including Xgħajra, Marsaxlokk and Dingli among others with a recent innovation being the Winter Challenge touring Ġnejna (Mġarr), Kunċizzjoni (Rabat) and Mdina.

In what was a bumper year, same as the previous year, 1986 also witnessed the birth of the Federazzjoni Maltija Draughts by its founder Joseph Borg.

At first events used to be held at a very small clubhouse in Santa Lucija following which the Lourdes Band Club in Paola started hosting the association’s annual events.

Following long years of individuals enjoying the game purely as a hobby in a substantial number of bars and other outlets scattered around the island, particularly in Qormi and Żejtun, the Malta Pool Association came into being in June 1989 when it started organising competitions for individuals and teams annually on a national basis.

Having been introduced in Malta in 1986 by Tunisian mentor Ghilan Rageb and regular training sessions held at the Tigne’ area in Sliema and in a private gymnasium at Pietà, the Malta Taekwondo Federation was set up in 1989 following the establishment of another club, Birżebbuga Taekwondo Club, by Christopher Vella.

The technical assistance rendered by Korean Master Choi Chang Yeul (6th Dan) is considered as a breakthrough in the setting up of the national federation.

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