The 2022 Commonwealth Games get underway on Thursday with Team Malta taking part with 29 athletes in nine different disciplines. Squash player Kijan Sultana, who left Malta to develop his talent in Australia, will be Malta’s flagbearer alongside weightlifter Tenishia Thornton during tonight’s opening ceremony…
Can you give us a run-down of your experience in Australia, how difficult it was for you to settle down?
My first move abroad before moving to Australia was actually to the UK when I was fourteen-years-old.
At that point I had managed to get to a good level as a junior squash player, not only locally, but also reaching a top ranking in Europe in the Under 15 age group.
That improvement was largely due to the fact that I could combine my studies with training at the National Sport School where I was coached for three years by professional squash player and coach, Bradley Hindle.
Even back then, I used to travel abroad every couple of months to take part in competitions.
However, to keep up with my squash development, I really needed to move abroad so that I could train and compete more regularly with other junior players at a higher level.
I spent one year at Wycliffe College, a boarding school in England, which had a strong squash academy.
There I was training on a daily basis with other student players my age and older and who were my level and better.
I was participating in tournaments in the UK every other week, and tournaments on mainland Europe and even in the USA every month or so.
This was my first experience living abroad and away from my family. It was quite challenging sometimes but I knew that it was the right thing to help me reach my sporting goals.
In the meantime, my previous coach Bradley Hindle had moved to Australia and set up a squash academy there in Brisbane.
My older sister Colette also moved there and was training professionally at that academy. She encouraged my move to Australia where I could live with her, while also being able to train and compete at a high level.
The fact that I was with my sister helped me settle and get used to the lifestyle in Australia quite quickly. This was of course pre-COVID. The idea back then was that I could still see the rest of my family a couple of times a year.
Of course, with COVID, travelling in and out of Australia became impossible for two years until restrictions were relaxed early this year. That is when I was reunited with my younger sister Lijana who joined Colette and myself in Brisbane where the three of us are now based and train.
We have all travelled back to Europe now to take part in the Commonwealth Games. This is the first time in over three years that we have all been reunited with our parents.
How do you feel that this experience abroad has helped you in your formation both as a person and a squash player?
Moving to Australia has given me the chance to really grow both as a squash athlete and mature as a person.
I have just started reading for a university degree and I am managing to combine my studies while retaining a high intensity of squash training.
The university is very accommodating in terms of having the flexibility to work around my squash schedule. I also have access to a good number of junior and professional competitions around Queensland where I am based.
What does it mean for you to be named as flag-bearer for Malta in the Commonwealth Games?
It is a great honour to be chosen as flag-bearer for my country at such a prestigious event.
As a young athlete I know that I will be representing also the future generation and aspirations of Maltese sport.
Commonwealth Games is quite a high-level tournament in terms of participating players, what are your major objectives the competition?
I am very excited to be playing in my first Commonwealth Games, competing alongside some of the top squash players in the world from very strong squash countries like Australia, England, Wales, Malaysia, India and New Zealand.
New Zealand’s Paul Coll who reached no.1 world ranking last March will be the top seed in the men’s singles event in these Games and I could face him in the second round.
Squash does not yet feature in the Olympics. The Commonwealth Games represent the biggest event that any squash player can take part in.
My main objectives for the Commonwealth are to give my best performance, achieve the best result possible and get as much experience from this event as I can.
Over the past 12 months you have won some prestigious tournaments in Australia like the Queensland Championship. How important was that for you to push you further and improve more?
Winning some big tournaments has been very encouraging for me.
It is great to have these wins and these help me to keep training hard and push further.
However, the challenge is to remain positive even when results are not as expected and, as a young athlete, appreciate that these are just small bumps on the long road ahead.
I am sure the 2023 GSSE in Malta are at the back of your mind – is winning gold your biggest goal?
The 2023 Games of Small States will be the greatest sports event in Malta.
I believe there will be more Maltese people supporting Maltese athletes than any other sports event anywhere so far.
Winning gold in the Games of the Small States of Europe in Malta would have a very special significance for me.
What are your career ambitions and a message to other young players who want to follow your footsteps?
My goal is to become a top squash player in the world.
My message to other young players is not to focus too much on the short-term wins and losses but more on the longer-term goals, retaining a positive mindset along the way.
Kijan Sultana is supported by SportMalta, the Maltese Olympic Committee and through the Malta Sport Scholarships Scheme financed by the Government of Malta.