Malta Football Association president Norman Darmanin Demajo has informed council members he will not seek re-election on July 20. He was first elected in 2010 after winning a fiercely-contested race, defeating Joe Mifsud.

Mr Darmanin Demajo was committed to investing in football infrastructure and strengthening the island’s technical sector and grassroots football, which, to a certain extent, he did, leaving behind a legacy of a more transparent association with better infrastructure, less bureaucracy and more financial fair play.

In general, the local game of football has, over the past years, made significant strides forward, both technically and administratively, but we are still a far cry from where we should be and, for every step forward we make, other countries of our calibre seem to make five.

Rather than winning trophies, which is, of course, desirable too, the MFA’s overriding concern should be the poor attendances and following the local game has. A solid fan base will constitute another revenue stream, whether through match attendances, merchandising and TV viewership even if, admittedly, the numbers are small. Such revenue will, in turn, lead to more spectacular and successful performances on the pitch.

This should be a priority for the next MFA president.

Likely candidates Bjorn Vassallo and Chris Bonnett have great experience in the football scene. Whether their return to Malta, after occupying important roles with Fifa and Uefa, is out of sheer love for the Maltese football game or out of necessity, putting their names on the ballot sheet is commendable because it is no easy task, especially when one considers the prevailing mentality within many club officials, and players, who the MFA constantly has to deal with.

The new MFA president needs to understand that good results and quality football are not the only ingredients that would attract the crowds.

In 2006, The Guardian newspaper had reported that, less than four months after their World Cup triumph, Italy’s top-flight attendances had reached their lowest ebb since 1970. Attendances remain poor in Italy until this day and the game there is suffering.

Former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi had blamed the drop in attendances to the fact that the Italian stadiums are “tired, obsolete, inhospitable and structured like the Colosseum”.

The same can be said about our stadiums. Despite the money invested over the years in upgrading the national stadium, it falls short in attractiveness level. The stands are away from the field of play and, no matter how many supporters attend, how many trumpets are blown, it is difficult to create the desirable atmosphere.

The MFA should follow in the footsteps of smaller clubs abroad that are engaging architects to design “football capsules” with a lower spectator capacity but which still satisfy the “functional, geometrical and acoustical requirements of big modern stadiums” yet maintaining the desired “arena” atmosphere.

They should also include commercial areas, retail spaces and family attractions to make the whole experience of going to watch a football game as enjoyable as possible for all.

Such a project must be a priority for the MFA and funding should be sought through local government, the EU, Uefa and Fifa. There are other priorities too, like the strengthening of the youth academies and the ongoing fight against match-fixing, which is harming the sport beyond repair, whether it is perceived or true.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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