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MAAA chief sees season of progress

Matthew Crocker (175) leads the field in a Championships for the Small States of Europe race, at Marsa. Photo: Wally GaleaMatthew Crocker (175) leads the field in a Championships for the Small States of Europe race, at Marsa. Photo: Wally Galea

Although there is the not inconsequential Olympic Games still to look forward to, but with the bulk of local track and field events now over, it is time for the local association to draw judgements over what has gone on throughout 2016.

And the balance is largely positive. That, at least, is the view of Athletics Malta president Edwin Attard.

“There are two main factors that I look at and they are both linked,” he said.

“We had the Championships for the Small States of Europe that served as a push both for the athletes and the association itself.

“For athletes, it meant a competition of a certain calibre on home soil whilst for the Malta Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) it led to the completion of some important work at our facilities.

“I think we’ve witnessed some extremely satisfying performances both in the Small States meeting and in the National Champion-ships. So much so, that now we have a number of athletes who have already hit the minimum qualification standards for the 2017 GSSE.

“It doesn’t mean that next year they can let go because they will still have to achieve the so-called ‘B’ Standard but it is still a good sign.”

“As for facilities, we revamped the warm-up area,” Attard added.

“This was quite significant for us and we managed to do it because SportMalta appreciated just how important this area is for the athletes and helped us financially.

“We also levelled the pitch area of the stadium. Over the years a lot of sediment had found its way on to the pitch and we needed to level it off in order to make it compliant with international rules for throwing events.”

In addition to the importance of improved facilities, Attard believes that wider international participation can contribute towards raising the level of our sport.

Here, too, there has been quite a lot of activity in 2016.

“We’ve competed in a large number of events thanks also to the Maltese Olympic Committee and their support,” Attard said.

“In March, for instance, we had athletes at the World Indoor Championships, the European Throwing Championships and the World Half Marathon Championships.

“Then, we had one of the peaks in 2016 when Charlotte Wingfield won a bronze medal in the U-23 Mediterranean Games.

“In July, we competed in the Euro Youth Championships, European Championships and Euro Junior Championships.”

Culture issue

Attard’s belief is that such participation can help raise the level of Maltese athletics although it will take more than that to emulate the progress that countries like Iceland and Cyprus have witnessed in recent years.

“It is a question of culture,” he mulls.

“That progress doesn’t happen overnight. Our athletes have to be exposed to sport from an early age so that we build a culture of participation in sport.

“There are a number of Icelandic athletes who live in America. It is the same with Cyprus who have athletes training in Greece.

“As I said, thanks to the MOC schemes we have some athletes competing regularly abroad but international exposure has become increasingly important.”

Beyond the 2016 Olympics, next season will bring with it two important competitions – the GSSE and Euro Team Championships.

“Those are two huge opportunities for our athletes and vital for the national team,” Attard reckons.

“We’re also looking at the infrastructure. We’ve qualified to receive funding from IAAF to improve our facilities but in the longer term we are looking at the possibility of a significant upgrade.

“I want the sport to keep growing. You can’t call athletics a small sport but it can grow bigger.

“In other countries, running, walking or cycling have become an everyday activity for a significant part of the population. The practice of such activities should become one of our major objectives.”

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