It is a cliché that is often repeated but one that is true nevertheless: there is no bigger honour than wearing the national colours and no greater motivation than winning in the name of your country.

That is the case everywhere but more so here where the prestige of international competition tends to spur our athletes to achieve their best results.

The number of national records set during such events bear testimony to this fact and MAAA president Edwin Attard is quick to acknowledge the importance of those experiences.

“As soon as I took up the presidency I immediately made it clear that I was going to focus on the European Team Championships,” he said.

The meeting will include GSSE nations and other countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

“These days we’re competing with a full national team and that has fostered a new spirit among our athletes.

“It is a target that motivates athletes and creates a good team spirit. Last year, I expressed my satisfaction at the results we achieved. We are improving and this will help us to keep doing so.”

Those results reinforced Attard’s belief over the importance of having at least one event a year where we can be represented by a full team which is why the MAAA was among the leading voices arguing for the introduction of the Small States of Europe Championships, the first edition of which will be held in Malta in June.

“In 2016 there are no European Team Championships. So, together with other small associations we felt the need to fill this gap and will be doing so with the championships for small states.”

At first, the meeting was due to be staged in Luxembourg but that plan has since changed.

“I was asked if we were willing to host the championships and although it will be a challenge I gave them my word that we were ready,” Attard said.

“I believe that it will be a stimulus for our athletes as well as an opportunity to improve facilities at Marsa.”

Indeed, work on that has already kicked off at the venue.

“Over the past few months we’ve carried out some upgrading of the facilities at Marsa,” Attard said.

“We’ve levelled the in-field area because that hadn’t been done for a number of years. We’ve also re-painted the stands and upgraded the seating area.

“Now, a tender has been issued to change the warm-up track and we’ve just started work on refurbishing the dressing rooms. All this was work that needed to be done and, thankfully, we’ve found Sports Malta ready to help us.”

Things are likely to get intensive ahead of the meeting which will include GSSE nations and other countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The small states championships are scheduled for June 11.

“There will be 22 events in one day, meaning that the programme will be quite full,” Attard said.

“There will be something going on all the time and we’re doing our best to make the meet as attractive as possible.”

Just as it should be an enticing opportunity to attract the crowds, so too the possibility to compete should be a considerable motivator for Maltese athletes.

“There are some thresholds that athletes must reach to qualify for the champion-ships,” the MAAA chief explained.

“That said, every team will be capped at a maximum of 26 athletes and we will have to abide with that as well.”

Naturally, expectations will be high but Attard is staying grounded.

“I think that it is too early to talk about results,” Attard said.

“It looks as if all teams will be fielding their best athletes but we’re still a long way off. What is certain is that it will be a challenge and an opportunity for our athletes to show what they are capable of.”