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South seasiders Birżebbuġa waiting for action

The Birżebbuġa waterpolo pitch with the Malta Freeport in the background.

The Birżebbuġa waterpolo pitch with the Malta Freeport in the background.

Everyone who is a follower of the waterpolo game in Malta must have fond memories of the south-side team of Birżebbuġa who, until six years ago was still competing in local competitions. Since 2002, the club has withdrawn from the competitive game. In this interview by Andre Bonello, president George Farrugia tries to explain what is happening to his once glorious club.

Why has the Birżebbuġa club withdrawn from competitions?

The club's officials took this decision in 2002 when they realised that the club could no longer function with its current premises.

Ever since the development of the Freeport, our pitch became unusable. To facilitate the movement of the large vessels within the harbour, extensive dredging works were undertaken to deepen the seabed in the centre of the bay.

Most of the sand dredged was pumped onto the shoreline, thus creating a sandy beach. But, another outcome, perhaps not anticipated, was the rising seabed level all around our pitch.

This resulted in the clogging of the tunnels that were meant to assist the circulation of sea water. Not only this, but the sand seeped inside the pitch thus reducing its depth to a considerable extent.

What was your reaction?

Initially we insisted with the authorities to correct the damage that was being done to our facilities. As a result, the pitch itself was dredged at least three times at considerable costs.

Some estimates available show that each dredging must have cost the authorities around 50,000 euros. However, all such effort and expenditure proved to no avail, since sand starts to seep in immediately the dredging stops.

So, what are your club's proposals?

The club officials realised that a complete refurbishment had to be undertaken.

A leading firm of architects were engaged to draft plans for a modern and functional club on the current site. The plans provide for a fresh water pool, measuring 33x25 metres, much smaller than the current one.

The reason for this downsizing were practical ones. The current pitch size is larger than needed for a waterpolo game and would be much costlier to maintain as a large fresh water pool.

The plans also provide for a modern club house to replace the dilapidated one we currently have.

This will provide for all amenities one normally associates with a modern club, including gym, showers, offices and catering facilities.

In view that today, to just compete in the local competitions with its two-season format, requires substantial funds, these plans were drawn in such a way as to provide the club with a good earning potential from the commercial parts of the same premises.

Rebuilding the club and then not have the funds to finance a good team was never an option.

These plans were approved by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in 2003.

So, why has nothing been done as yet?

One must appreciate that the building of such a sports complex is not cheap. Our current estimate put this cost at around one million euros.

The first idea of the club's officials was to source private finance. The Business Plan prepared by the club's financial consultants show that the catering facilities that would be operational all year round, can be a profitable venture to either the club itself or to any private entrepreneur. The non-catering facilities that would be available will also offer additional earnings, thus ensuring that we have sufficient resources to maintain a competitive team.

During the last six years our committee has entered into discussions with various entrepreneurs who showed interest in this project. However, for one reason or another, none of these discussions came to fruition.

What are your current plans?

First, we still welcome private finance to be our partner in this challenging project.

My committee still believes that once constructed, the club will again become a haven of activity and the social fulcrum of the locality.

However, until this project can be realised, we have to take care of the day-to-day requirements. Our current premises, which were built over 40 years ago, are now in a dilapidated state. In fact, a few weeks ago our architects filed an application with MEPA to demolish the current premises and have them rebuilt on the same footprint.

The cost of this project is estimated at around 55,000 euros.

Have the central authorities been contacted with regards to this project?

Since 2002 we have held innumerable meetings with various government ministers pushing for central funding. Looking at what government has done to help other waterpolo clubs, we expected that, at the very least, we would receive the same level of assistance.

All the authorities we met were most receptive of our case and we received many promises.

However, due to various reasons, nothing concrete ever materialised.

In December 2007, we applied for financial assistance at the Malta Sports Council and we are informed that our request was accepted in principle in February 2008.

However, due to the general elections and changes at the same council, we have yet to get an official response from them.

We are currently waiting for a meeting with the new chairman.

Last month, we also approached the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs with a request for assistance in rebuilding our current premises. Again, the reception was very positive and we are awaiting a formal response soon.

Based on all this, we are very optimistic that the required funds would be sourced soon and the reconstruction of the current club house will be ready by summer 2009.

But, apart from pushing for the new project, was your club otherwise active?

Definitely. Every year we hold a Summer Club for the children of Birżebbuġa. The swimming lessons have to be held outside our locality though, since, as stated already, our own pitch is unfit for swimming.

Everyone knows that Birżebbuġa has produced some of the finest waterpolo players on our island, including two national coaches, i.e. Stephen Rizzo and Pierre Borg.

Hopefully, future stars will emerge from the kids that are being trained by our club today.

Every year we also try to gather our past players and participate in one of the local tournaments.

Last year, we played in a tournament organised by Barracudas, of St Paul's Bay, wherein a team from Valletta also took part.

We have found tremendous support from the Local Council, the political party clubs as well as other organisations such as the two local band clubs who have hosted many of our meetings.

When do you anticipate returning to local competitive waterpolo?

The club hopes that as soon as the current club house is rebuilt, we would be generating enough income to finance a team. Maybe not a team that competes at the higher levels, but definitely one for Division Two.

Then, when our project is realised and we can provide a fresh water pool to our players, our dream is that once again, the ASA will consider competitive games to be played away from Tal-Qroqq.

We all have fond memories of match days at Birżebbuġa when the whole locality would be flooded with supporters from all parts of the island. These match days were greatly anticipated and provided much entertainment to all. Perhaps in the future these memories would become, once again, a reality.

Note: The Birżebbuġa Waterpolo and Sports Club can be contacted by phoning 9949-3668.

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