The government is refusing to divulge how a €5 million investment given out to local sports organisations in preparation for this year’s Games of the Small States of Europe was distributed and spent.
Sports and Education Minister Clifton Grima announced the investment in June 2021, with the funds passed to the Malta Olympic Committee to be distributed amongst 10 sports organisations for training in preparation for the games.
The funds were received from the National Development and Social Fund (NDSF) financed by the Malta Individual Investor Programme – the selling of Maltese citizenship.
A SportMalta press release announcing the investment of the funds claimed that they were to be used “to assist sports associations financially, to employ, among others, professional coaches on a full-time basis together with the rest of the necessary technical staff, to finance the participation of Maltese athletes in competitions and training sessions abroad, and invest in more appropriate technical tools.”
In a Times of Malta interview, SportMalta CEO Mark Cutajar and Malta Olympic Committee Director of Sports Charlene Attard said the €5 million were “key” to Malta’s success in this year’s games, claiming that it afforded athletes financial security, opportunities to attend training camps and competitions abroad, and funding of professional support for athletes.
Minister Grima and Malta Olympic Committee President Julian Pace Bonello refused to answer questions by The Shift requesting details on how the funds were distributed and spent.
The 10 sports disciplines that benefitted from the fund are athletics, basketball, judo, rugby, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis and tennis, with associations representing each discipline given financial control of how the money was invested.
On Monday, The Shift reported how, for this year’s games, the government awarded Maltese citizenship to seven foreign professional athletes despite them seemingly not fulfilling the eight-month residency required by law.
On Thursday, in a Times of Malta ‘fact-check’, an MOC spokesperson spoke about how, in Table Tennis, four of the eight players competing for the national team were contracted from abroad. The spokesperson said this decision was taken by the Malta Table Tennis Association (MTTA) in line with the MOC “to be competitive rather than simply participating”.
In their respective interviews for the article, the MOC spokesperson and Minister Grima did not address concerns that the eight-month residency requirement in giving the athletes citizenship by merit was breached.
The unnamed MOC spokesperson’s claims also raise further questions on how the funds were spent given that the MTTA has not had a full board since September 2022, when “six of nine delegates resigned calling for an election which as of [29 May] is being postponed and postponed by the MOC,” according to a Facebook post by ex-MTTA vice-president David Pace.
Throughout May, The Shift also reported on a failed €37.7 million investment by SportMalta promised in 2019 to build facilities for training local athletes and use in the games. Many of the facilities were initially meant to be completed by 2021, leaving ample time for their use in the training for the games. None were finished in time.
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.