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Watch: Marathon cancellation would have been an injustice to athletes – Transport Malta CEO

Transport Malta CEO Joseph Bugeja (left) tallks to the media alongside Mark Cutajar, the SportMalta CEO. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

SportMalta CEO invites Joe Micallef to join organising team

The SportMalta Charity Marathon will be organised on March 6 on a revised route that will not only honour the new infrastructure realties that have developed in Malta in recent years but more importantly will guarantee the well-being of participating athletes, Joseph Bugeja, the chief executive officer of Transport Malta, told a news conference.

The fate of the 2022 Malta Marathon dominated the headlines during the past few days after organiser Joe Micallef announced that the annual race was set to be cancelled due to a clash over the race route between his organisation and Transport Malta.

Mark Cutajar, SportMalta CEO. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Bugeja said that he felt that such cancellation would have been an injustice for hundreds of runners who would have been denied the chance to take part in the annual race.

To this end, Transport Malta teamed up with SportMalta to set up an organising committee, formed by sporting officials who boast vast experience in hosting mass events, to organise the annual race on March 6.

“There has been a clash of opinions on the race route between Transport Malta and the Malta Marathon organiser, but when it was announced that the race would be cancelled I felt that something had to be done as it was not fair for hundreds of runners to be denied the chance to participate in a race they have been preparing for several months,” Tabone said.

The Transport Malta CEO said that the first meeting that discussed the organisation of the Malta Marathon was held in December where he met with the Malta Marathon organiser Joe Micallef, the police force, and members of the health department to discuss the proposed route changes being forwarded by Transport Malta.

“We were in favour of having a marathon that would respect the new infrastructure realities that developed over the years while also ensuring that the local public would still be able to make use of the public transport as well as having the Civil Protection being able to intervene if an emergency incident happened,” Tabone said.

“A few days later we met again and this time SportMalta was also in attendance and there was an agreement between all parties on the new proposals except for the Malta Marathon organiser.

“We may not have expertise to organise a marathon, but as an authority certainly have the right people to provide excellent transport management. The new route fulfils all the requirements to avoid having parts of the country blocked by the marathon and that is why we avoided to have the athletes passing from near the MFSA junction and the Marsa-Ħamrun Bypass to ensure the well-being of the athletes is protected.

“Had we kept the previous routes there would have been a situation where we had between 13 to 15 bus stops from which citizens could not make use of public transport.

Clint Axisa, Director of Enforcement at Transport Malta. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“The new proposed route has the total support of not only the police force but also the health authorities and the Civil Protection.”

COVID-19 protocol

On his part, Mark Cutajar, the SportMalta CEO, said that it is the governmental entity’s mission statement to help every association that is interested to organise a national or international sporting event.

He said that SportMalta started discussions with the Malta Marathon organiser in late November where it was pointed out that there was going to be a problem with the then COVID-19 protocol for sports events.

“It was here that I held a meeting with Charmaine Gauci and we reached a compromise that would see the previous capping capacity of 300 participants for a mass event scrapped.

“The only condition that we were given was that athletes will be separated in groups of 100 and there would be a

two-minute gap between one group and another,” Cutajar said.

“However, the Malta Marathon organiser still had a problem with the route being proposed by Transport Malta and with no agreement in sight we approached clubs from athletics, triathlon and cycling, who are used to organise mass events, who accepted to help us in the organisation of the race.

“SportMalta and Transport Malta do not approach companies for sponsors and it was here that the idea of giving all the proceeds of the race to charity came about.”

Cutajar said that his relationship with Joe Micallef was still a very good one and he has invited him to join the organising team. 

“In the same way that we welcomed clubs and associations to help us in the organisation of the race, everyone who is ready to give a helping hand in the preparations is more than welcome,” Cutajar said.

“I still have a very good relationship with Joe Micallef and I have already offered him to come on board and organise the race with the minimal route changes approved by Transport Malta and with the support of all workers of SportMalta.”

Route changes

Clint Axisa, Director of Enforcement at Transport Malta, explained the changes effected to the marathon route that will still have its starting point in Mdina Gate in Rabat and the finish line at the Sliema Ferries.

“Due to the Central Link project we are proposing that the participating athletes instead of passing through the MFSA junction, they will head towards Birkirkara and pass through Fleur De Lys before turning towards the BOV Headquarters in Sta Venera, Cannon Road and pass through New Street that will guide the athlets back to the Marsa-Ħamrun By-Pass,” Axisa said.

“There was also a change in the route for athletes to run towards Pietá as instead of passing from near the Fire Brigade Garage in Floriana they will now run through the small road in front of the ARMS headquarters and head straight to Pieta and Msida.

“The other major change is that participants will no longer pass through the Ta’ Xbiex promenade and instead will have a safer route that will see them run on the inside lane in Msida and then cross to the other side with all roads closed for traffic to ensure maximum safety for the athletes.”

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