The small nations games are on and may the girls and boys in red have the best time and make their mothers and fathers proud.
But the good will athletes are entitled to, should not be taken hostage by a government unable to do its job. Except for The Shift’s sharp reporting, the press has been largely circumspect about the botched preparations for these events.
Today’s Malta Independent remarked that “sadly four venues were not completed in time … It is a pity that these venues were not completed, and that they have all also gone over budget, as they would have surely added to the spectacle of the Games and been integral for the preparation in the run-up.” This was halfway through a very excited editorial about how great it is “to see Maltese athletes celebrated with as many medals as possible,” and all that.
I feel the flutter of teary excitement at the sight of the national flag flying high as much as the next man. But can we leave the white and red melodrama to reruns of Ġensna and focus on the public interest here which is the mindless waste of the public’s money.
Officially, the events are being held in 11 venues. The Basketball Pavilion in Ta’ Qali is newly refurbished mostly out of private funding but that’s practically the only relatively new venue for these events. The Cottonera Sports Complex was finished 20 years ago, at least the part being used for these games. It’s right next to a building site because a new indoor swimming complex that was supposed to be done for these games is just that, a building site.
Instead, the swimming events are being held at the Tal-Qroqq complex, which was completed for the 1993 games, three decades ago. Which reminds me that the Gozo “Aquatic Centre” is still a mess of dust and unpolished concrete years since its building started. That’s “new venue” number 2 which is still undone.
Sailing is being held in St Paul’s Bay, which is a venue the government can claim no credit for. Indoor shooting is being held at the Kirkop Sports Complex which is more than ten years old. Squash and Tennis are being held at the colonial Marsa Sports Club and that’s because the long-promised Tennis Centre in Pembroke and the squash complex in Marsa are two other unfinished projects that were supposed to be ready in time for this week’s games. They aren’t.
Across the road from the mess of unfinished construction, the Marsa athletics stadium has been given a lick of tarmac and a lick of paint for this week’s events. Which is nice.
Events are also being held at the National School of Sport in Pembroke (completed 10 years ago), Ta’ Kandja Shooting Range (completed 5 years ago at the enormous cost of €13 million and left to rot after that), the privately owned Tony Bezzina Stadium in Paola and the University Sports Hall which is also around 30 years old.
The point is that with minor exceptions the government has failed all its targets in preparing for these events. Beyond the week of medals, the whole point of hosting the games is to build a legacy that lasts well beyond the closing ceremony. Beyond the week of news coverage, the real benefit of games like these is to leave facilities for people to practice the sports in.
It seems like athletes will have the legacies of the games held here in the 1990s and the 2000s to thank. To use revolutionary hyperbole, with this shameful record of missed deadlines, the sports minister’s head as well as as the heads of a chain of his underlings should have been held up on spikes at the opening ceremony of the games. Instead, this bunch of abject failures will be using this week as a PR-fest as if they were the ones doing the running, swimming, lifting, and jumping.
The present government’s legacy to sports is a mirror of its legacy to the country: more concrete, more dust, more money in the pockets of contractors who deliver little and charge much.