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New MAAA chief keen to put sport on solid foundations

The Malta Amateur Athletics Association (MAAA) will be looking towards creating a professional structure for athletes, especially now that health authorities have relaxed restrictions with regards to non-contact sport.

The MAAA’s new committee, formed only a week ago, had been in a race against time to re-open the Marsa track before doing so on Friday.

MAAA president Andy Grech told the Sunday Times of Malta that the track was his priority since his appointment.

“This is the athletes’ home so I want them to be happy to come to the track.  I want them to have the equipment they need and not have to fight over it, as happened in the past,” he explained.

“I want them to feel proud that the Marsa athletics track is where they train. So, we immediately made drastic changes. We spoke to the (facility) staff and encouraged them to help us, which they did. We want to make it presentable because in my opinion, currently, it’s not.

“Eventually we want to upgrade it and at least, come close to countries like Cyprus, Iceland and Luxembourg that have super facilities which unfortunately we’re lacking. I think it helps athletes become more motivated.”

The association’s Annual General Meeting was planned for March 22 but had to be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Grech insisted that he had pushed for it to happen back in March in anticipation of the pandemic’s repercussions.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to fix the track and start putting ideas together but the way it turned out was the complete opposite,” he said.

“We had to settle ourselves in a weekend (after the health authority announcement) and reopened in a couple of days.

“Having managed to do it, is already a massive milestone with a new council who didn’t even meet physically but put it all together online. I’m already really happy.”

Grech praised the authorities’ guidelines and help, saying they are now taking advantage of the situation and looking at the positives.

“Athletes are currently training in the evening so in the morning, we’re fixing the track,” he said.

“The Marsa track is a massive area so we needed good brainstorming and proper logistics. I know what athletes need, so we strategically placed the different groups and coaches in different areas of the track and asked them to respect boundaries and whatnot.

“Everyone has to respect the fact that the virus is still among us and that we haven’t gotten rid of it yet.”

Grech pointed out that the association’s plan was based upon two phases, the first already in action and the second coming after further evaluation. Currently, it is elite athletes and others who took part in competitions at under-18 level and above, throughout 2019.

“Choosing the athletes that can come to the track was quite cumbersome and very demanding. So, we took a decision, obviously not the easiest, but we all need to understand that if restrictions are not followed, we’ll end up back to square one,” he explained.

“I’m upset we can’t cater for everyone as yet but I’m sure when we start phase two, it will be better. We’ll include younger kids, maybe in four weeks we’ll have nurseries as well in different timeslots.

“The older athletes are generally more mature so maybe by the time the nursery athletes are included, the pandemic will be a bit easier to handle for the coaches – they are at risk as well after all.

“It’s a learning curve and I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from this. I’m very happy that clubs and coaches have understood that it’s not back to normal and came prepared. I think everybody’s just happy to be back really.”

The former sprinter and long jumper stressed the importance of having been directly involved in sport.

Career knowledge

He emphasised the fact that athletes go through the good and bad of the sport and as a former athlete, he laments having been let down in the past by things caused by decisions made by people in power.

“I’ve trained very hard for events and was let down in the last minute because of silly decisions. It really demotivates athletes,” the 30-year-old admitted.

“As I was an athlete myself, I know how to give bad news and explain what happened. I’ve been to different facilities and stadiums so I know we might be lacking in places, but we have advantages in others as well.”

Grech was forced to end his athletic career at 25 due to injury, saying that long jump and triple jump ‘took a great toll’ on his left knee, but he feels happy to still be part of the community.

“I’m very motivated, I’ve got a lot of time to brainstorm and think. I have ideas which I’ve had since I was an athlete myself,” he remarked.

“The drawback (of being a young president) is that when people see someone who is young, they often think it’s a mistake. Fresh blood and ideas were needed and that’s what we wanted… it makes for a new community with fresh ideas”

Grech highlighted that these ideas were all aimed at putting in, as best as possible, a professional structure.

He explained how even in the committee, putting people in roles which follow their day job and their strengths will “definitely make the association stronger”.

He also explained how the association strives to make the sport more popular.

“Over the past few years (athletics) deteriorated in participation levels so not that many people are ready to help out,” he admitted.

“I want more people involved and I want to make sure that athletics is at a higher level. We want to have a professional mentality where everyone has their role and responsibility.

“There are other islands who are doing well, winning Olympic medals and who have the exact same problem (of size).

“Facilities are easy to fix but mentality and culture are very hard and take longer to fix.”

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