The Maltese government is set to spend €380,000 in bonuses alone for Malta’s gold-winning athletes if it intends to make good on a February promise of awarding a €10,000 bonus to every Maltese athlete to win a gold medal during the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE).
The 2023 GSSE was hosted by Malta this year and ran between 28 May and 3 June, involving 10 sports disciplines, nine nations and around a thousand athletes. Team Malta performed exceptionally well in this year’s games, securing 97 medals, 38 of which were gold.
Team Malta’s impressive performance this year was in part helped by the contracting of foreign professional athletes who were given Maltese citizenship by merit to represent Malta at the games, despite having little to no connection to Malta.
On Monday The Shift reported how the Maltese passports were awarded despite doubts as to whether the eight-month residency requirement as stipulated under LN335/2017 was fulfilled. Given their aid in helping secure gold medals for Team Malta, the newly passported contracted athletes will ostensibly receive a chunk of the prize money.
On Saturday, a report by L’Essentiel, a daily newspaper from Luxembourg, one of the participatory states in the games, claimed that no other nation was offering premiums of this kind throughout the small nations’ games.
In that report, Luxembourg delegation head of mission Alwin De Prins said that the gold medal bonus “is not a wise use of money, it is not going in the direction of the development of the sport”, saying that the driving force for athletes in such games should be more patriotic.
Questions sent by The Shift to the Malta Olympic Committee, Identity Malta, Aġenzija Komunità Malta and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri about how and to who Maltese citizenship by merit was awarded in connection to the games remain unanswered.
On Saturday, the closing day of the small nations’ games, Luxembourg table tennis coach Camille Gonderinger called the practice “a perversion of the spirit of the games” in a Facebook post.
Table tennis was the discipline with the highest incidence of players given Maltese passports to represent to country, with four of the eight players making up team Malta having no connection to the country.
Throughout last month, The Shift reported on a failed €37.7 million investment by SportMalta from 2019 for the construction and upgrading of several facilities leading up to the games.
These included an incomplete €16 million pool in Victoria, Gozo, a €3 million tennis complex in Pembroke which is still in its first phase of construction, a €9 million indoor squash and weightlifting complex in Marsa still having its foundations laid, and an unfinished €14 million indoor pool at the Cottonera sports complex.