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Sports Development in the Maltese Islands

Sport in Gozo continues to spread among the community

Action from the Gozo Cup 2018 International Softball Tournament. PHOTO: DARREN CASSAR

Traditional bocci in Gozo is different than that played in Malta as it’s the petanque style that has been practised for many years since the foundation of the first facilities at Ta’ Xerri in Qala and in Triq Santa Dminka in Victoria.

Yet, the first official competitions were held in September 1964 in Kerċem following which the Assoċjazzjoni Boċċi Għawdex was set up in 1982, however, its existence was shortlived.

In 2016, following the initiative of Joe Bajada, the Assoċjazzjoni Għawdxija tal-Boċċi was founded and it regularly organises competitions in various localities.

Weightlifting in Gozo started to be organised in 1984 when the Gozo Amateur Weightlifting Club was founded by Mark Cassar. Yet, unfortunately, by time this sport ceased to exist on the sister island.

Two years later spirit combat started to be practised in Gozo when Mario Saliba founded the Spirit Combat International – Gozo Club. Sessions and competitions are regularly held at the Gozo Sports Complex in Victoria as is the case with kickboxing in Gozo that has also been practised since the foundation of the Spirit Combat International – Gozo Club.

Months later, the Gozo Model Flying Association was established in 1987 and enthusiasts still practise their favourite pastime till today at a dedicated site located close to the Horse Racing Racecourse at Ta’ Xħajma, Xewkija.

Official bodybuilding activity in Gozo started a year later when in 1988 Anton Grima opened the Shape Up Fitness Centre in Charity Street, Victoria. By time various individuals started participating in local competitions and later on also enhanced their experience by taking part in international events.

A breakthrough for Gozitan sport was the opening of the Gozo Sports Complex in Victoria in mid-April 1990, under the chairmanship of Joseph W. Psaila, with the brand new venue hosting the first edition of the European Games of Salesian Youths just a week later, an event that attracted no less than 700 participants from nine countries.

This was the first major event that Malta and Gozo hosted on such a large scale thus leading to the early days of sport tourism.

The Gozo Clay Target Association was established during the same year and started to organise different events in various locations until the opening of the Shooting Range in Għajn Mħelħel in Żebbuġ proved to be crucial as today this high-standard facility with breathtaking views attracts numerous enthusiasts all year round.

The Gozo Squash Association was founded in 1997 with most of its activity and competitions centered around the Gozo Sports Complex in Victoria. In recent years, the organisation of the sport on the sister island has become the responsibility of Gozo Squash.

A year later the Gozo Tornadoes Baseball Club was set up and managed to win the National League in their third year of participation as well as some years later.

By time this team was disbanded until in September 2012 a new club, Ghajnsielem Redcoats was founded. It currently has a strong base of young athletes practising baseball and softball and regularly participates both in local events as well as in others organised internationally.

The new millennium heralds a diversification in sporting activity

With sporting activity in Gozo still at a lower participatory rate than in Malta, efforts to continue providing different opportunities continued to be stepped up including more recently through the re-established Gozo Sports Board in 2013.

Handball in Gozo started to be organised in 2000 when the Gozo Cohiba Salsa Handball Club was established under the presidency of Angelo Bonello. The club started participating in the National League with matches played on home (at the Gozo Sports Complex in Victoria) and away basis.

Yet, such participation only lasted for a few seasons. Following a lull of more than 15 years, at present the Gozo Handball Academy has been set up in an attempt to revive the game on the sister island.

The Gozo Sailing Club was established a year later under the presidency of Dr Simon Mifsud. It organises activities on regular basis, mainly around Qbajjar Bay and Xwejni Bay in Marsalforn (Żebbuġ).

This eventually also led to the launch of organised canoeing events around Xwejni Bay in Marsalforn (Żebbuġ) and Dwejra Bay (San Lawrenz).

Karate in Gozo started to be organised since 2002 when the Kempo Arnis Federation was set up under the direction of Joseph Portelli. Events and competitions are organised on regular basis and now the organisation makes use of its new facilities located in Triq G. Borg Olivier in Victoria. Kendo sessions are also organised on a regular basis.

The Gozo Model Car Club was established during the same year and since then events have been regularly organised at the offroad racing circuit located close to the Ta’ Xħajma Racecourse in Xewkija.

Two years later, the Gozo Climbing Association was set up in 2004 with enthusiasts eagerly participating in various events organised regularly in some of the island’s most scenic locations including Mġarr ix-Xini and Ta’ Ċenċ (Sannat), Wied il-Mielah (Għarb), Wied il-Għasri (Għasri) and Dwejra (San Lawrenz).

Four years later the Gozo Gymnastics Academy was established in 2008 by Emily Saliba together with her daughters Sarah and Deborah.

Sessions continue to be held on regular basis at the Gozo Sports Complex, Victoria.

Meanwhile, in October 2017, a second club Gymnpro Gymnastics opened under the direction of Marvic Gauci. Sessions are held at the club’s facilities at Triq Għajn Qatet in Victoria.

2011 saw the foundation of the Gozo Rugby Club with practice sessions regularly held at Kerċem Stadium. The club participated in the National League on regular basis yet after a few years the team was disbanded.

Organised badminton competitions in Gozo have been organised regularly thanks to the foundation of the Smash Hits Club in 2015. Training sessions and events are held at the Gozo Sports Complex, Victoria.

Although the first cycling races in Gozo were held in the 1960s by time interest dwindled until in 2016 the first official Gozitan cycling club, Gozo Greyhounds Cycling Club, was established with regular Sunday sessions organised and departing from Qala. At present three Gozitan cycling clubs are affiliated to the Malta Cycling Federation.

Two years later TriGozo was established by Michael Bongailas. It is the first ever Gozitan triathlon club to be affiliated to the Malta Triathlon Federation. It organises events on a regular basis mainly on the Marsalforn (Zebbug) and Xlendi (Munxar) routes.

More recently, the Gozo Autocross Club was founded in 2019 and competitions were temporarily being held at the Racetrack facility in Ta’ Xhajma in Xewkija.

The latest addition to the list of sport opportunities in Gozo is the BMX pump track that has been set up in Ghajnsielem since 2020. Races are held on regular basis, mainly during weekends, and also attract the participation of Maltese riders who cross over to compete against their Gozitan counterparts.

The author would like to thank veteran Gozitan sports journalist Joe Bajada for his contribution in providing all facts mentioned. Credit also to Joseph W. Psaila, former Education Officer (Physical Education) for supplying the author with facts dealing with the foundation of the Gozo Sports Complex

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