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Watch: Mark Cutajar calls for key changes if Maltese sport is to move forward

SportMalta chief executive officer Mark Cutajar called for changes in the education system as well as in the mentality of how we look at sport if Maltese athletes are to reach higher goals in the near future.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Cutajar said that Maltese sport is passing through an exciting time with the government investing heavily on two major pillars of the national strategy of sport, namely infrastructure and the technical preparation for elite sport athletes.

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

“Since 2013, SportMalta has been involved in a huge number of infrastructural projects such as the upgrading of the National Pool, the construction of a pool in Birżebbuġa, a football ground in Birżebbuġa and Marsaskala as well as the opening of the Academy of Snooker and the Hillclimb course in Mtaħleb,” Cutajar said.

“Added to that there are a number of projects in the pipeline such as the indoor pools in Cottonera and Gozo, the sports centres for squash, weightlifting and gymnastics in Marsa as well as the tennis facility in Pembroke and the motor racing track in Ħal Far, just to name a few.

“Besides, the government along with SportMalta, have provided €5 million through the National Social Development Fund for the technical preparation of elite athletes.

“We are monitoring on how these are managed by the federations and the Maltese Olympic Committee to ensure a return in this investment starting in the 2023 GSSE.”

Sport Malta and the Maltese Olympic Committee are the two main entities for sport in Malta and sometimes the difference in their roles is not so clear.

Cutajar said that SportMalta is the major funder of the MOC and focuses a lot on grassroots sport to attract more children to physical activity.

“We have a number of academies to help those families who cannot afford to pay for their children’s sporting activities,” Cutajar said.

“There are academies for athletics, triathlon and gymnastics among others but when it comes to the technical preparation of elite athletes it’s the MOC and the associations who take the decisions. In fact, it’s the MOC who is administering the €5 million grant for their athletes’ technical preparation.

“It’s important to keep this distinction between the two entities and further than that it is even more important that people who are in the MOC administrators and have a position in a government department should resign from their position with the civil service.”

Cutajar, formerly a Director of Sport and vice-president at the MOC, said that he was in favour that a number of key positions in the governing body of elite sport should be filled by people who are employed on full-time basis.

“To manage elite sport in Malta I believe that you need to work on a full-time basis,” Cutajar said.

“Pippo Psaila and I, although we were volunteers, we spent long hours working as Director of Sport due to our passion for sport. Today, things have changed and it’s time that we have people in key positions who work on a full-time basis.

“I believe that the MOC should have the Director of Sport, the General Secretary on full-time basis while also creating the role of chief executive who will be someone with a technical baggage to not only administer the organisation but also to see how he can attract more funding for the elite athletes.”

Funding system

Cutajar said that the only way for Malta to secure success in top level competitions such as the Olympic Games or major continental championships is by changing the way how funding is spent.

“If we are going to emulate countries like San Marino, who won three medals at the Tokyo Olympics, or Liechtenstein, who enjoyed success at the Winter Olympics, we need to stop looking at faces and reward only those athletes who have the ability to succeed,” Cutajar said.

“Here in Malta we give a piece of the cake to all federations to keep everyone happy but this cannot work. SportEngland does not provide funds to their waterpolo team as they cannot win, once they are successful then they will qualify for funding and that is what we are doing with the €5m grant of the NSDF.

“We need to focus on a smaller group of athletes that can win. We are going to invest in track and field sprinter Janet Richard who will soon become a full-time athlete, target shooter Eleonor Bezzina, a two-time gold medallist at the GSSE.

“Don’t invest in young athletes who have yet to prove themselves. Once they show their potential then yes but you have to prove your credentials with results.

“In team sport we have started a pilot project in basketball and rugby where we are subsidising national team players to train during their working hours. If we are not going to change the current mentality and managing system, we will never achieve success.”

Cutajar said that the current education system is making it almost impossible for young athletes to succeed in sport.

“The Education system now caters for a child to reach the age of 15 and be able for the O’Levels. Then either you succeed, or you fail.

“How can you pretend that a young athlete who trains six hours everyday can manage his sporting career with his education requirement?” Cutajar asked.

“The way forward is that a child who needs train five hours a day should be given better conditions than a student who does not practice a sport.

“Today young athletes return home from school go to training and complete their homeworks and studies at 11pm, it’s unacceptable.

“There is a willingness from the Prime Minister, the Education Ministry, The Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and the University of Malta to change this and these children should be given better conditions to be able to meet their education demands and at the same time conduct a sporting career.”

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