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As The Curtains Draw On Tokyo Olympics, What Do Malta’s Results Say About The Future Of Local Athletes?

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Maltese Olympians have drawn the curtain on an eventful and uneasy Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Over the span of a week, six of the island’s very best made the journey to Tokyo to compete in the prestigious games across five disciplines: badminton, weight lifting, swimming, indoor pistol shooting and track and field.

A bastion of eternal glory, the Olympics is revered as a worldwide competition where nations can flex their physical strength and achievements in the most primitive manner possible.

And for those who might say that Malta’s size prevents it from winning any medals, San Marino’s performance this year, and Iceland’s in the past, proves that athletic ability knows no geographical boundaries.

For Malta, this year, there was never really any hope that our athletes would be flying home with a medal, (the first in the country’s history had it been the case), but certain expectations were made, and many of them were exceeded.

One of those exceptional moments was when 20-year-old track and field athlete Carla Scicluna advanced in her 100-metre to compete side-by-side against Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce.

Fraser Pryce is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and came second overall in the women’s 100-metre at Tokyo.

“It felt surreal running next to one of my idols in the sport, whom I’ve been following ever since I started,” Scicluna told Lovin Malta.

Scicluna was the only Maltese athlete to advance to another round at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. However, the young sprinter was no match for the likes of Fraser Pryce, who clocked in almost two seconds faster in their heat.

Nonetheless, standing side-by-side with one of your idols on a 100-metre track is testimony to the fact that Maltese athletes do have what it takes to run with the big dogs.

From big dogs to a small fish in a big pond, 16-year-old Maltese swimmer Sasha Gatt is perhaps the country’s best chance at securing a medal in the near future.

 

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Gatt was the youngest local athlete heading up to the games this year, and competed in the 1,500-metre and 400-metre races.

While she failed to break any national records (this time round), the young swimmer possesses the most potential out of the contingent solely on her age and the potential longevity of her career.

For Gatt, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is merely a taste of what to expect in the future and how to plan for a successful return at the next Games, and the ones after.

On the other hand, veteran local swimmer Andrew Chetcuti may have swum at his last Olympic Games. Though his performance fell short of excellent, the 28-year-old still holds a number of national records, something that can be greatly attributed to his exposure, experience and training abroad.

When it comes to results, we should all be proud of Eleanor Bezzina who placed in a respectable 26th place out of 53 contestants in the 10-metre Air Pistol competition and a credible 17th place out of 44 participants in the 25-metre Air Pistol competition.

Sadly, the results weren’t enough to see her through to the final round.

Meanwhile, weightlifter Yazmin Zammit Stevens and badminton player Matthew Abela can be considered pioneers in their sports – with one becoming the first Maltese female weightlifter to compete in the Olympics and the other first Maltese athlete to compete in badminton at the Olympics.

Zammit Stevens also set a new national record in the process.

But what do these results mean exactly?

In the scope of the Olympic Games, absolutely nothing.

The Olympics is all about medals – gold, silver and bronze – and Malta has neither, nor has it ever had in the country’s history.

However, for a small nation, the results should act as a wake-up call to local authorities that Malta possesses the talent and potential but lacks the appropriate resources and pathways to nurture our pool of athletes.

And it all comes down to funding.

Most, if not all, athletes winning medals at the Olympic Games do so because their sport is their profession, and they practice it every day of the week, and get paid to do so.

For Maltese athletes, the scenario is starkly different. A lack of funding from various government entities means that sporting bodies are unable to fund local athletes full time, which means being an athlete is a part-time gig.

In turn, athletes shift their focus on full-time employment to make their ends meet and are unable to fully commit to their respective disciplines, despite all sacrifices being made to accommodate the sport and compete.

And you don’t need to hear it from me, but from the numerous local athletes who have expressed the same sentiment and frustrations – whether it be athletics, swimming, sailing or football.

 

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With funding, local athletes are not only able to devote more time to their sport, but they are also able to acquire the right facilities and resources to supplement their training, all in an effort to develop a more holistic and seasoned athlete heading into major competitions.

Moreover, more funding equals more opportunities for athletes to compete abroad, which in turn leads to more exposure in a highly competitive environment against more high calibre competition.

Sporting bodies, such as Athletics Malta, have made a concerted effort to send athletes abroad to compete knowing that, no matter what the result, the experience helps with overall development.

Yet, these sporting bodies also run on a voluntary basis, with individuals stepping up to the plate and making personal sacrifices for the greater good of the sporting community, due to a lack of funding.

Without appropriate funding, local sporting organisations suffer, and when local sporting organisations suffer, the athlete pays the ultimate price when they do not reach their full potential.

A perfect case in point is Malta’s contingent sent to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, none of whom actually qualified for the Games but were nominated via wildcards given to the Malta Olympic Committee.

But then again, Malta’s contingent heading up to the Olympics was made up of student-athletes and working professionals, and not full-time athletes, sadly.

We should all be proud of the athletes who sacrificed blood, sweat and tears to represent Malta on the biggest sporting stage in the world, but the barebones fact of the situation is that a lot more work has to be done before Malta brings home its first (of many) Olympic medals.

However, unless there is adequate funding to support athletes and sporting organisations, then the culture surrounding sports can’t change and Malta will remain scraping at the bottom of the athletic barrel.

What do you make of this debate? Let us know below

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When JP's not too busy working on polyrhythmic beats, you'll probably find him out and about walking his dog.

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