Why It’s Cruel To Send Malta’s Athletes To The Olympics
It’s like taking a law exam after watching a season of Suits
Team Malta may have had its worst showing in 24 years at the Rio Olympics but instead of questioning our athletes it's about time we take a long, hard look at our country's attitude towards sports. With the current outlook, it's cruel for us to keep sending our athletes to the Olympics. Here's why.
Malta has never invested in athletes
You can’t do well in sport without investing in your athletes. Malta has never seen any real investment by the government, nor by big business. In countries like the UK, leading athletes are on some serious government funding plans, and businesses are behind them all the way, so they don’t need to have a 9-5 job in order to support their dream.
Comparatively - Maltese athletes generally get no support expect for free supplements and physiotherapy. We even make our athletes pay for their national kits or ask them to wear a hand-me down.
We lack proper training facilities
The facilities in Malta are, for the most part, utter shit. We have 300 days of sunshine, the perfect geographic location and yet zero available outdoor facilities. This is an extension of the lack of funding mentioned above. How can we expect our athletes to excel if they don't have the space in which to train?
Our athletes are not ready
Competing at something like the Olympics is a total different experience to competing at local events. Our small size makes everything extremely familiar in Malta. We compete at the same venues, we know our competitors inside out, we know the judges, the people in the stands, the location of the bathrooms...
You're only ready to compete in the Olympics after having competed at a number of large international events in that same season. Although the athletes that participated were trained and at their peak, many wouldn't have had adequate opportunities to participate abroad.
Competing at the Olympics is a total mindfuck
Many athletes see the Olympics as the epitome of their career. But representing your country can pile on a whole lot of pressure. Maltese athletes are left to fail or succeed on their own. Throughout your years of training, the stands are empty, the papers don’t care, and people don’t even know who you are.
Then suddenly something like the Olympics comes round and everyone is interested. Your friends are posting on your wall and your mum is constantly on the phone with the press who suddenly care about your successes. People who never knew, or cared, about you are suddenly begging you not to disappoint them.
Failure at that level is really, really tough
When the reality of public failure hits, the fear you feel is immeasurable. It’s a bit like taking a taking a law exam after watching a few episodes of suits. But everyone is going to see your mark, and give their opinion on it. You're thrown in the deep end, alone and under-prepared.
Mental preparation is ignored
When it comes to psychological preparation the phrase 'it's lacking' is a serious understatement. Just like people in Malta are afraid to discuss mental health, Maltese athletes aren't encouraged to talk things out and prepare themselves for the competition.
Choking at a competition is a very real situation: being the strongest on paper and then suddenly just thinking "fuck what if I pull my hamstring... I wasn't ready for this" is enough to throw the whole thing. Controlling these thoughts is an important part of training.
Eating disorders within the athletic community are also very common, and very rarely tackled.
The media just doesn’t get it
The national media in Malta simply doesn’t understand sports. They don’t know what it takes for an athlete to make it to the starting line of the 100m race. That Maltese athletes are given a 'wild card' which is basically a way of saying "you're never gonna have an athlete that qualifies for the olympics, so here's a pity pass".
Its ridiculous to think that every athlete can perform a PB at the Olympics, even if they were 100% physically and psychologically prepared. There have been countries that have literally studied their genes and scientifically decided which sports their nation was best suited for. And we're here throwing what little money is available for sport in random directions.
Competing at the Olympics sees Maltese athletes going from top dog, to little fish. Many of our athletes don’t realise this till they're there... and suddenly it's too late, and their failure is so much more public and embarrassing. At the very least, before jetting off they really need to be told: "This whole experience will crush you, but it's not your fault."