Saying that encouraging sport participation is crucial to have a healthy society is, of course, stating the obvious, especially in today’s sedentary and vehicle-dominated world.
Over the past three decades, different administrations invested millions of euros to provide athletes with the necessary facilities to practise their favourite sport and also give ordinary citizens the opportunity to lead a more active life.
Since the early 1990s, venues such as the national pool sports complex, the Matthew Micallef St John athletics track and the Cottonera sport complex were three of the sporting venues – albeit significant ones - that were built or upgraded to provide the best possible platform for all those who wanted to maximise their sporting talent.
In the run-up to the last general election, the government had announced more projects aimed at increasing the number of such venues. These included an Olympic-size pool at the Cottonera sports complex, a rugby stadium at Corradino, a new shooting range at Ta’ Kandja and the refurbishment of the Marsa horse racing track, among others.
Such facilities will, of course, contribute to ensuring a lasting sporting legacy for years to come, though a lot will always depend on the dedication and the discipline of athletes and their trainers.
Regrettably, it has become increasingly clear that Gozo has been left behind in this regard.
Despite several promises by different administrations, Gozitan athletes have very little sports infrastructure at their disposal, other than football facilities.
In fact, anyone wanting to use a running track in Gozo will have to make do with the Ta’ Xħajma horse racing track in Xewkija or a 200-metre long track at the Victoria college.
Similar problems face swimming athletes. The only indoor facility in Gozo is a 12-metre long pool at Fondazzjoni Arka, whose main aim is to provide rehabilitation for people with special needs.
Such a situation is, of course, very frustrating for sporting entities, such as Otters ASC, which are unable to provide their waterpolo players and swimmers the opportunity to train indoors. Their only alternative is to cross the channel and hold training sessions at the Tal-Qroqq national pool.
A keen Gozitan swimmer has to wake up every morning at four, travel to Malta, do her training and then go back on the 8.15am ferry to get to work on time!
The Gozo Minister now says a one-kilometre long walking/jogging and cycling trail will be built within Ulysses Grove. There are also plans for an indoor pool near the Victoria sports complex, the only indoor sporting facility in Gozo, and to refurbish the Ta’ Xħajma horse racing track.
Yet, works on these projects have yet to start.
The Parliamentary Secretariat for Sport and SportMalta talk a lot about their determination to boost participation in sport. But how can this be attained if Gozo still lacks what by today’s standards would be considered basic facilities to do so?
European Union data shows that Malta continues to feature high among countries with obesity problems and that many Maltese youths shun sports clubs. Adequate, readily-available sports facilities will surely contribute to change that.
It is high time we move from political talk to action. Gozitans certainly deserve better. Ensuring Gozitan athletes enjoy adequate facilities and opportunities for sport participation is certainly a good start.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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