The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games has yet to kick off but Maltese para-athletes are already at a disadvantage having had less exposure and experience at elite international athletic events than their competitors.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Malta Paralympic Committee President Joseph Grima noted how financial limitations mean that para-athletes aren’t able to compete abroad more than once a year.
“Our para-athletes will be giving their best, but we need to understand that they only compete abroad once a year, which is how much we can afford,” he said. “They’ll be competing against athletes who compete regularly in high-level competitions”.
For 19-year-old Thomas Borg, who will be competing in the T47 100-metre and 400-metre at the Paralympic Games, Tokyo marks just his second top-tier athletic event ever.
Meanwhile, Tokyo 2020 will mark the second consecutive Paralympic Games for swimmer Vladyslava Kravchenko after having represented Malta at the Rio 2016 Paralympics as Malta’s first-ever female para-swimmer.
“Without appropriate funding, we can’t do anything but on the other hand we can’t stay waiting for funding before we start moving forward,” Grima said.
A lack of funding particularly impacts the para-athletic community, which requires specific and tailor-made equipment and facilities in order to accommodate certain classifications, specifically when concerning wheel-chair users.
“We have to appreciate that such an athlete not only has to go through the cost of day-to-day training but also costs of Paralympic equipment,” said Chef de Mission Julian Bajada.
“The wheelchairs used are not the ones used every day, they’re tailor-made to the athlete and the track. These are thousands of euros that need to be invested in specific sports prosthetics.
“If we want para-sport to grow as something part-in-parcel as a strategy for sports, the fund needs to be tailor-made in certain aspects,” he said.
In addition to funding issues, which plague almost every sport in Malta, a shift in mentality is needed both in society and within organisations to better facilitate and support local para-athletes so that they can compete with the elite.
“I think it’s our obligation as a nation to support our para-athlete,” Grima continued. “Para-sport is not something that is done on the side but should be part of the core business of a club. We fully expect clubs and coaches to take a more proactive role to support our athletes”.
Malta will send two para-athletes to the Paralympics; track and field athlete Thomas Borg and swimmer Vladyslava Kravchenko. Both will be vying for the very best, with ambitions to smash personal and national records.
Kravchenko will kick off Malta’s duties on 27th August followed by Borg later on during the day.
Kravchenko will once again enter the pool on 30th August with Borg concluding Malta’s duties on 3rd September.
A third athlete, blade runner Antonio Flores, was also allocated a slot to participate in the upcoming Paralympic Games but he, unfortunately had to withdraw due to an injury to he sustained to his achilles tendon earlier this year.
Despite all the hurdles local para-athletes face, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games marks a milestone in recent history for the MPC with this being the first time since 1980 that Malta is being represented by more than one Paralympian at the Games.
“We hope that other individuals in Malta, with or without physical impairment, are inspired by the Paralympic Games to pursue sports. The possibilities and benefits are endless,” Grima ended.
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