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Sports Development in the Maltese Islands

The impact of heavy British sporting influence prevails

Luck in sport is thought to be an ingredient for success and chance had it that way back in 1928 a Scotsman, on RAF duty in Malta, was writing home that he was happy to find three badminton courts where he could continue to play his favourite sport.

He was referring to the three badminton courts at Luqa Barracks, now occupied by the Armed Forces of Malta. The gymnasiums at the Mtarfa and St Andrew’s Barracks also included a badminton court.

In August 1952, Maltese and British badminton enthusiasts founded the Malta Badminton Association yet this was dissolved years later until in 1970 when the Badminton Association of Malta, today re-branded as Badminton Malta, was set up.

The Federation of Underwater Activities Malta traces its roots back to 1955 when a group of spearfishing enthusiasts formed the Malta Sub-Aqua Club whilst organising various events in vintage points such as Ċirkewwa (Mellieħa), Baħar is-Ċagħaq (Naxxar), Żonqor Point (Marsascala), Wied ż-Żurrieq (Qrendi), Għar Lapsi (Siġġiewi) and Gozo and Comino, with the latter two also playing host to the third edition of the World Underwater Spearfishing Championships in 1959.

A year earlier, the Malta Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness was set up on the initiative of Joe Dimech who was elected president with the first National Bodybuilding Championships being organised in 1965 at The Palace Theatre in Paola.

Cycling races were already in vogue at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In fact, in 1898 Joseph Lanfranco, then current champion cyclist of Malta, and Arthur Harding, an ex-champion himself, used to challenge any cyclist on the island by means of a notice on The Daily Malta Chronicle.

In the 1920s, cycle races used to be organised at Mosta while in the 1950s, races – mainly individual time trials – used to be held at Ta’ Qali (Attard), Baħar ic-Ċagħaq (Naxxar) and Burmarrad (St Paul’s Bay).

This led to the foundation of various clubs, in turn, leading to the establishment of the Malta Cycling Association in 1960 that then changed its name to the present Malta Cycling Federation in 1982.

The fascination and appeal of the game of darts reached Malta in the early years of the 20th century when British Servicemen posted in Malta promoted the game by playing it for long hours, in the evening, in Maltese bars in the areas of Paola, Tarxien and Fgura.

In 1961 Benny Pace, the editor of the weekly sports paper ‘The Sporting Star’, proposed the formation of a national association for the game of darts in Malta, something that was accomplished in 1962 following the first ever All Malta Individual Knock Out competition that was organised a year before and that also included the participation of British Servicemen.

Malta gains independence

With the vast majority of national associations already set up by 1964, the year Malta gained its independence from Britain, heavily influenced by the British sporting culture, the same trend continued in the following years despite the British lesser involvement in the administration of the country.

Yet, the sporting legacy continued for the following 15 years, at least.

First off the blocks in this era literally six months before independence was the Malta Basketball Association which held its first meeting in March 1964 under the chairmanship of Benny Pace.

Two years later, the first competitions were held at the Polytechnic outdoor court in Msida while the first national basketball league was played indoors a year later at Msida Primary School with ten teams participating, an era that gradually also attracted the participation of American players.

During the same year, the Malta Boxing Association was established yet before 1900, the Inter-Services boxing tournaments were regular features and they were generally held at the Brittania Circus in Floriana.

The programme consisted of 20 fights in various categories. By the twenties’ boxing became an integral part of the programme of fairs organised by the local band clubs, held at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta and the Empire Sports Ground in Gzira.

Similarly, the Marsa Sports Club and Malta Union Club in Sliema have offered tennis facilities since the 1890s. Courts were rented out on a half day system as groups spent their time having tea and socialising. Children were encouraged to play between sets as parents rested.

The impact of tennis in Malta increased steadily after World War II with five clubs forming the Malta Lawn Tennis Association in 1966, a name that was eventually changed to today’s Malta Tennis Federation in 1994.

Pigeon racing in Malta started in 1948 with pigeons coming from the Military Lofts at Luqa and Ta’ Qali (Attard). By time, these were abandoned and the Malta Racing Pigeon Club of Sliema became the first on the island.

Eventually clubs started mushrooming in various localities particularly around the Sliema, Birkirkara, Iklin and Cottonera areas. This led to the establishment of the Federation of Pigeon Racing Clubs in 1966.

The Corradino Hockey Complex in Paola, which originally belonged to the Royal Navy, was inaugurated in 1888 by the Duke of Edinburgh, however, it was not before 1968 that the Hockey Association of Malta was formed with Qormi Hockey Club being the first local club to be established in 1971.

A much longer lapse in time in setting up a national body is traced to the history of traditional regatta in Malta.

As far back as the 17th century, it was customary for those towns and villages whose shores surrounded the Grand Harbour to organise races on the occasion of their annual titular feast day.

The most popular races were those named after Portu Santu and Ta’ Liesse, Our Lady of the Rosary, Saint Lawrence and Saint Liberata.

The first Victory Day races were held on September 8, 1825. Other races included those from Marsasamxett (Valletta) to Birgu (Vittoriosa) and from Marsamxett to Isla.

In 1968, the need was felt for all participating districts to get together and form what today is known as the Għaqda Regatta Nazzjonali u Qdif Iehor. Freedom Day races were first held in 1979 to commemorate Freedom Day on March 31 in Dockyard Creek between Isla (Senglea) and Birgu.

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