Despite the public attention that mass demonstrations tend to gather, activism in 21st century Malta is not just about large-scale protests, petitions and marches.

It has come to include activities and movements that engage the creativity, courage and concern of individuals drawn from all walks of life, brought together in support of social or environmental causes.

Motivated by a desire to solve local challenges and to improve the day-to-day lives of one precarious community in particular, the recently completed 1Run1Race is evidence of a deep-felt solidarity, which can sometimes feel in dangerously short supply.

Claudio Camilleri and Patrick Tabone, two professionals turned athletes, covered 190km in 35 hours to help fund access to education for young refugees. Beginning at dawn’s first light on July 25, Camilleri and Tabone set off from Sliema’s Independence Gardens to cover 150km in Malta and 40km in Gozo over two gruelling days in the summer sun.

Funds raised by the athletes have been received by JRS and Kopin, NGOs that have a long track record in the migration sector. Working together, the organisations tailored an Education Support Programme that offers young refugees the necessary assistance to access or continue pursuing their education, alongside opportunities for employment.

On the environmental front, last month, swimmer and anti-pollution activist Neil Agius became only the second person in recorded history to swim between Sicily and Malta.

The swimming coach and former Olympian performed the epic swim to raise awareness about marine pollution and to inspire people to take better care of maritime habitats.

The kind of activism that these three athletes engaged in manifests a change in the way Maltese activists are reaching out and creatively engaging with the public. Rather than top-down approaches that petition institutions and rely on the largesse of the state, contemporary activists are getting things done for themselves. Spurred on by technology and a networking spirit, activism is speaking directly to the people, on behalf of the people, and with the people’s needs in mind.

Athleticism and sporting activities can become legitimate and valued venues for activism in Malta. While the relationship between sports and activism has a long history in many countries, leveraging the role of athletes and sportspeople in Malta as political actors is a more recent development.

Perhaps it is time for the sport communities of Malta to empower their members to express their identities and beliefs, both on and off the field, as powerful catalysts for positive change. There is a hunger to hear our athletes speak up for who they are and what they stand for, and support causes that make an impact in society.

These recent feats of endurance are an invitation for the recreational power of sport to be met by an equally remarkable commitment to the social, political, economic and environmental wellbeing of Maltese communities.

Undoubtably, it is the responsibility of all those involved in national sport to develop and support strategies that enable further political engagement, in a spirit of respect for the rights and reputations of all.

Finding a way forward, at a time of constant uncertainty, will require principled leadership at all levels of society. It may seem surprising that these relatively unknown athletes, rather than institutionalised activists or authorities, have captured the public imagination and in the process, dared us to achieve far more than we ever thought possible.

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