Success in international competitions has been rare and far between for Maltese sportsmen. This primarily because our choice of talent is what it is, given the size of the country, and also because of limited resources, which, in turn, conditions training. In fact, sports administrators are continuously seeking foreign assistance to secure the best possible preparation for their athletes ahead of important contests.

Against this background, it was bewildering to learn that the junior water polo national team had to scrap plans for a training camp abroad because a few members could not make the trip due to the rigidity of some academics.

Malta national coach Karl Izzo rightly let it be known that the Matsec board had not allowed some of the players to sit for their A level exams while training in Budapest in preparation of the European Championships. It seems such a concession is only made for actual international competitions, not training camps.

Of course, not holding the training camp in Hungary could not be cited as the only reason behind the team’s poor showing during the championships, when it placed last among the 16 participating teams. But a contributing factor it certainly was.

The Aquatic Sport Association had planned the week-long training stint to allow the coach to work closer with his players and step up their physical preparations with a well-planned training regime. The players would have also had a taste of their upcoming challenge by playing a series of friendlies with the Hungarian national team.

Regrettably, the plans had to be scrapped as the Matsec board failed to understand that, for athletes, such training programmes are what thorough study sessions are to students prior to an exam, which should be facilitated.

Such a stand exposes serious lack of knowledge on sports preparation by the very same people who should be looking with an open mind at young people’s formation in the wider context: mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body).

The authorities often speak about their commitment to support the development of our athletes but, faced with such decisions as the Matsec board’s, one is justified in wondering whether this is all just rhetoric.

When this newspaper asked what the Parliamentary Secretariat for Sport would be doing, the reply was that the waterpolo coach  had been contacted “to take full stock of the situation”. But what is happening on the ground to ensure such instances are not repeated?

The Matsec board says it always did its best to make concessions so athletes in different disciplines would be able to take part in international sporting events, such as the Games of the Small States of Europe.

That is, of course, commendable but why cannot exceptions also be made at the preparatory stage of testing international competitions as was the case of the European Junior Championship in Malta, which attracted the continent’s best waterpolo teams in this age group.

This case has demonstrated the need for a good look at the prevailing rules and practices, bearing in mind today’s realities and the fresh efforts being made by sports administrators to give the best possible preparation to athletes.

It is useless investing thousands of euros in sport if we lack a suitable structure that prioritises our athletes’ needs throughout all stages.

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