Maltese Olympic Committee president Julian Pace Bonello believes that the only way athletes can thrive in major sporting events is if authorities continue to invest heavily on local talent and more importantly include sport as an integral part of schools’ curriculum.
Pace Bonello was speaking to the Times of Malta for the first time since he was reconfirmed as president of the Maltese Olympic Committee for a third term.
The MOC chief admitted that the Games of the Small States of Europe, which will be held in Malta in 2023, were one of the major goals of the new administration and said that given the huge financial investment undertaken by the government the pressure was on to reach the pre-set objectives.
“The fact that I was given such a huge support from the federations it inevitably gives me added motivation to complete my last term as president successfully,” Pace Bonello said.
“With the 2023 GSSE only 18 months away, these biennial Games will surely be one of our major goals but there are other objectives on our agenda.
“The MOC has 47 federations affiliated to it and it’s our mission statement to try and provide them with the best possible technical preparation ahead of their participation in international events.
“Given the record funding by the government ahead of the 2023 GSSE, we have a lot of pressure to deliver the result we are all looking for. The main goal is to see the Malta contingent winning the biggest number of gold medals in these Games.
“I hope that with the help and co-operation of all the participating federations and coaches we can reach this objective. We have approached a number of athletes to turn professionals but unfortunately not everyone accepted.
“However, whoever wanted to switch full-time we are giving him all the support he needs through the funds provided by the government and the National Development and Social Fund.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on Maltese sport with athletes forced to put their career on hold for several months as training was forbidden by health authorities while major competitions were also postponed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is something that we still have to live with and probably will be with us even during the 2023 GSSE,” Pace Bonello said.
“It surely effected badly all the federations with several top competitions cancelled. Obviously, it’s a huge concern for us as with athletes and federations having events postponed it’s further limiting the opportunities for our athletes to compete in top competitions.”
Pace Bonello said that while the 2023 GSSE were a major appointment, the MOC’s long-term goal was to finally win a medal in an Olympic Games.
“If you look at the report we presented to the government five years ago, named 2023 GSSE and beyond, we made it clear that for us the Small Nations Games represented the first step towards achieving major international success,” Pace Bonello said.
“Obviously you need to do the first step to climb the ladder. But our long-term goal are the Olympic Games. Winning a medal in Paris 2024 is difficult given the short time-frame but our objective for the next edition is that Malta will have the highest number of athletes who qualify for the Games on their own merit and not via invitation.
“To reach this goal we are targeting athletes from four disciplines and try and give them the best possible preparation. We are hopeful that athletes from these disciplines will turn professional as it would give them a better chance to reach this goal.”
Pace Bonello said that one key change that needs to be done in Maltese sport is that local federations are given a full-time administrator that can help them in their day-to-day running.
He said that volunteers remained an integral part of Maltese sport but if federations are to make the next step forward they need to have professional administrators employed with them.
Pace Bonello said that even the MOC should head in this direction and talks are already under way to change the governing body’s statute so that key positions in the executive committee will be filled by full-time professionals.
“The Maltese Olympic Committee itself is based on volunteers,” Pace Bonello said.
“However, I believe that our statute needs to be changed so that key positions in our committee, such as the president, general secretary and the Director of Sport will be filled by people who are employed full-time and can give a bigger push to Maltese sport.
“There are already some informal discussions ongoing and with our general secretary and the new Director of Sport both government workers, the process is already underway so that they will be given the nod to work on a full-time basis at the MOC through the government’s funding.”
Pace Bonello said that one of the major problems for the development of sport in Malta was the fact that education is given a bigger priority from the society over a sporting career.
“Personally, I think that it is crucial that we include sport in the schools’ curriculum,” Pace Bonello said.
“This has to be done not only at secondary level but also at sixth form and university levels. Elite athletes who are following a course in university should be given additional points for their sport endeavours and not be forced to get all the required points through academical studies only.
“Politicians have time and again said that they are in favour of this system. This is the first time that the government has shown real interest in sport with his financial assistance towards elite athletes.
“Now we need to make the next step by putting sport as an integral part of our education system. Failure to do that means that we can never aspire to achieve sporting success.”
Towards the end of this interview, Pace Bonello revealed that the MOC are set to launch an ambitious project aimed at boosting Malta’s chances of winning a first-ever medal in an Olympic Games.
“The only way for Malta to win a medal in the Olympic Games is that the financial assistance that has been given by the government has to remain there for many years to come after the 2023 GSSE,” Pace Bonello said.
“For a small country like Malta you cannot attain Olympic success if you put all your funds on all sports disciplines. Don’t get me wrong I’m someone who is also pushing to help all disciplines but it’s important that we focus on a number of sport that we believe can succeed at Olympic level.
“We are going to announce a new project, called Ten for 2028, that will see us focus on the technical preparation of ten athletes with a view to see them challenge for a medal in the Los Angeles Games in 2028.
“The selection of these athletes will be very important. We need to look at disciplines where with the right preparation we will have a realistic chance of challenging for a place on the podium.
“It’s an ambitious project but I believe that if the funds are there and the selected athletes train with the right attitude and on a professional basis then we stand a good chance of reaching our goal.”