As from Saturday, hundreds of outdoor sports facilities which had been closed for two months due to the COVID-19 outbreak have reopened.

But for the time being, athletes are only being allowed to train in groups of six.

On Friday the government published a set of guidelines outlining the gradual reopening of open-air facilities including football pitches. Training has been restricted to groups of up to six athletes including coaches, who must remain two to three metres apart depending on the discipline.

Maximum capacity has been restricted to one person per 20 square metres of available space. Athletes cannot borrow any equipment from each other.

Addressing a news conference on Saturday, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Clifton Grima described these guidelines as part of "a roadmap to normality".

However, he acknowledged that in the case of indoor venues, resuming competitions and mass events was a still a long way ahead.

Grima said that for the time being, health authorities advised against having crowds or holding events at indoor facilities.

Adapting to the pandemic

Malta's football season was ended prematurely this week, with the Malta Football Association wrapping matters up early after public health authorities indicated that there was no way to resume matches in the near future. 

Asked whether the ongoing pandemic could disrupt or delay the start of next season’s football and basketball competitions, the parliamentary secretary said venues could have to be adapted for this to be possible.

“We are living a new reality. What was acceptable before might no longer be so in the future, and facilities might have to be adapted until a vaccine is available,” Grima said.

He added that the Maltese authorities would also be taking stock of the “international situation” on how to adapt certain venues in order to be able to resume competitions.

“This is like the introduction of all-seated stadiums, which until a few decades ago was unthinkable,” he added.

Special fund for clubs

Luciano Busuttil, chairman of State agency SportMalta, called on athletes to follow the new guidelines, to make it possible to relax restrictions even further in the coming weeks.

He also announced that clubs registered with the agency would soon be able to tap a special fund to help them mitigate the current situation.

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Maintenance works 

SportMalta CEO Mark Cutajar noted that during the past 11 weeks the agency profited from the abrupt closure to carry out maintenance works on its facilities.

Works on a new tennis centre were due to start in the coming weeks, he added, while a tender had been issued in connection with the handball pavilion project.

Cutajar said certain funds which had been allotted to host certain events have been diverted to sports clubs.

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