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Sports Development in the Maltese Islands

Post-independence stimulus to sport development in Gozo

The sport of Brilli is a very old game with roots in Gozo stretching back to before the arrival of the Knights of St John. PHOTO: Charles Spiteri.

Following an in-depth analysis spread over the previous six articles about the way in which sport developed in Malta, the next two articles will delve into the knock-on effect that this has had on sport development in Gozo.

The sister island of Gozo also has its own historical narration as to how sport developed among its community, with most mirroring developments on the mainland. Yet Gozitan uniqueness has its say in the equation too.

As opposed to sport development in Malta, foreign influence was at a bare minimum as the vast majority of disciplines took off following the initial assistance of Maltese enthusiasts with Gozitan administrators eventually taking over.

In fact, football was the first sport to be officially organised on the Sister Island when the Gozo FA was founded in 1936, following years of British servicemen involvement in unofficial matches on the island.

Competitive matches were played at the Silver Jubilee Ground in Xewkija, today known as the Gozo Stadium. The longest surviving authentic clubs are Għajnsielem FC, Sannat Lions and Xagħra United, all established in 1936.

Football is by far the most popular sport and widely organised in Gozo to the extent that practically all localities founded their representative side over the years including tiny Fontana yet the team was disbanded few decades ago.

The creation of the Gozo Sports Board in 1964, coinciding with Malta’s independence from Britain, certainly led to a significant boom of sporting activity on the island with several disciplines taking off over the next two decades.

In 1964, Billiards and Snooker competitions started to be organised in various clubs as well as at the Don Bosco Oratory in Victoria under the patronage of the Gozo Sports Board.

Interest boomed when in 1974, top Maltese cueists crossed over to participate in exhibition matches. In 2009, the Gozo Billiards and Snooker Club was established, based at the Leone Philharmonic Band Club in Victoria. Għajnsielem Snooker Club and Xagħra Band Club also organised competitions at regional level.

Similarly, chess in Gozo started to be played decades ago at the Casino Gozitano until in 1964 the Gozo Sports Board organised the first official competitions.

In 1992, the Gozo Chess Club was set up in Għajnsielem while today, sessions are held at the Cornucopia Hotel in Xagħra.

The same trend may be witnessed through the manner in which darts started to be organised competitively in 1964 by the Gozo Sports Board in clubs in Victoria.

High interest continued to prevail until the 80s, yet this was followed by a significant downward trend in the next decades where the game continues to be practised purely as a hobby.

Though unofficial waterpolo matches have been organised at Marsalforn Bay (Żebbuġ) since 1952, it was not before 1967 that the Gozo Aquatic Association was set up.

Competitions were organised on a regular basis until 1980 when only two teams were still in existence, namely Sharks and Otters. Both then started to compete in the Division Two League in Malta. However,  from 1987 to date, Otters ASC are the sole Gozitan aquatic club.

Brilli is a very old game with roots in Gozo stretching back to before the arrival of the Knights of St John. Between the late 60s and early 70s, there was a revival of this game in two villages; Għarb and Kerċem.

Today, Għarb remains the sole locality on the Maltese Islands where this game, which has many similarities to bowling, continues to be practised with regular sessions held every Sunday morning and also on public holidays. Sessions are held at St Peter’s Square. This sport is the only discipline to be practised in Gozo and not on mainland Malta.

Towards the end of the decade, the Gozo Table Tennis Association was founded in 1968 with competitions held on regular basis at the Don Bosco Oratory in Victoria.

During the 1964 Independence celebrations, the Gozo Sports Board organised the first-ever tennis tournament at Ta’ Dbiegi in Għarb, then a British Forces Camp.

A second court was laid out at Victoria in 1971 leading to the foundation of the Gozo Lawn Tennis Association a year later under the presidency of Magistrate J. Herrera.

Tennis in Gozo gained momentum in the eighties when Ta’ Ċenc Hotel in Sannat offered its two tarmac courts for competitions organised by the newly founded Gozo Tennis Club that was established in 1982.

Basketball in Gozo started to be organised officially when in 1974 the Għaqda Sportiva Għawdex was established. The opening of the Gozo Sports Complex in Victoria in 1990 continued to increase

interest yet after some years, this dwindled to the extent that Gozo’s sole representative side ended up participating in the competitions organised by the Malta Basketball Association.

In recent years, there has been an effort to reignite the flame with Shamrocks Stars Basketball Club being at the forefront in attracting youngsters towards this sport. Volleyball in Gozo also started to be organised competitively in 1974 by the Għaqda Sportiva Għawdex at the Victoria Girls’ Secondary School. Events were transferred indoors once the Gozo Sports Complex opened its doors in 1990.

Unfortunately, at the turn of the millennium, the sport endured a long lull until in recent years Volley Gozo was set up to help re-establish its roots on the sister island.

Athletics in Gozo officially started in February 1977 when the first Gozo Marathon was organsied by the Xagħra Youth Centre led by Fr Anton Refalo. This annual event continues to be held till today also thanks to the Gozo Amateur Athletics Association. In recent years, a number of clubs have also been founded in order to widen the base of this sport in Gozo.

The Gozo Motocross Association was set up in 1981 when competitions started to be organised on a regular basis at Tax-Xepp Circuit, limits of Nadur while during the same year, the same locality saw the first pigeon racing club in Gozo formed, the Nadur Pigeon Club with its first president being John Sultana. Today, competitions are also organised by the Victoria Racing Pigeon Society.

A year later, the Gozo Horse Racing Association was established under the presidency of Dennis Borg.

Official competitions started to be organised once the Ta’ Xħajma Racecourse in Xewkija was completed in 1987.

Such meetings are still held on regular basis. Horse races are also organised on the occasion of the annual titular fests in Victoria and various villages.

The author would like to thank veteran Gozitan sports journalist Joe Bajada for his contribution in providing all facts mentioned.

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