The €14 million Cottonera Sports Complex indoor pool slated for use during the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) being hosted by Malta is still unfinished with events officially starting today.
This is the fourth project that was meant to be used for the games but which remains unfinished.
A site visit by The Shift on Monday confirmed that while the pool itself appears completed, all facilities such as the bleachers, stairways, railings, apertures and surrounding outside area remain under construction and unusable.
The project was part of a €37.3 million investment by the Ministry for Education and Sport, falling under Minister Clifton Grima’s remit, along with SportMalta, which is led by CEO Mark Cutajar.
In a January 2023 press release by the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC), Cutajar said the pool was expected to be ready in time for the games, a deadline which has clearly been missed.
This is the third time that Malta will be hosting the small nations games, which run this year between 28 May and 3 June. The games will involve 10 disciplines, nine nations and around a thousand athletes.
The indoor pool at the Cottonera Sports Complex is the fourth project to have missed its completion deadline for the games.
Throughout May, The Shift has reported on an incomplete €16 million pool in Victoria, Gozo, a €3 million tennis complex in Pembroke which is still in its first phase of construction and a €9 million indoor squash and weightlifting complex in Marsa still having its foundations laid.
In a January 2023 Department of Information press release, Cutajar glossed over the at-the-time looming deadline while commenting on the projects. The complex housing the 5,000 square metre Olympic-sized pool was instead simply said to be “one of the best in the Mediterranean”.
Instead of the promised ‘best in the Mediterranean’ indoor pool, this year’s small nations’ games athletes will be using the National Swimming Pool at the Tal-Qroqq Sports Complex in Gżira, originally built in preparation for Malta to host the games’ 1993 edition.
Given that the Cottonera project is unfinished, Cutajar’s SportMalta hashed a last-minute agreement with the University of Malta for the use of parking spaces close to the ad-hoc replacement Tal-Qroqq Complex for use by GSSE staff.
Infighting on small nations games project management
Government sources have told The Shift about tensions between Sports Minister Clifton Grima and SportMalta CEO Mark Cutajar.
Cutajar has reportedly taken over management of the projects meant to be finished in time for this year’s edition of the games, reportedly claiming in board meetings that everything was on track for their timely completion.
Sources said Cutajar would meet with contractors involved in the construction of the complexes on his own, sidelining other officials while taking crucial decisions on the projects.
His “erratic and confrontational” management has reportedly led to disappointment within the ministry and SportMalta at the failure of the multi-million -euro projects to be completed on time.
The government officials who spoke to The Shift claimed that Cutajar was doing so with the backing of Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Lydia Abela, sidestepping Minister Grima in the process.
In October 2022, The Shift reported on how the Sports Ministry issued a frenzy of direct order contracts in an attempt to complete the Ta’ Kandja shooting range in time for an international shooting event, with both Grima and Cutajar refusing to answer any questions at the time.
An audit by the NAO had found that the €14 million project, originally estimated to have cost just €7 million, was riddled with irregularities, particularly in the way contracts were handled.