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Malta Wheelchair Basketball chief Aquilina eyes increase in inclusivity through sport

The Malta Wheelchair Basketball Association (MWBA) has been around for a while now but has recently announced that a national team will be taking part in the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation’s EuroCup qualifying tournament in Lille, France.

The team will tip off its international debut between April 21-24 and MWBA president Noel Aquilina told the Times of Malta that the team is going through intensive preparations ahead of the tournament.

“We are currently training three times a week with our coach, assistant coach and team manager. It’s intensive training at the moment so that we will give as good a performance as we can,” Aquilina said.

“We are also studying our opposition. Our coach has sent us videos so that we can analyse the teams we are playing against and we are also practicing certain tactics and techniques so that we can approach the games in the best way possible.

“The atmosphere has been great because we also have our relatives supporting us at the training sessions… Ta’ Qali is always full of people.”

These qualifiers will be a milestone for the association and Aquilina explained that if there is to be a success story in all of this, there has to be a first time for it.

“I’m not saying that we must get the best results in the world, but that we should go for it,” he said. “If we want to achieve success, we have to start from somewhere and build bit by bit. This will be an experience for us so that in the near future we can also improve our level.”

Asked about coach Isaac Xuereb, an able-body former player with the team who has taken over the coaching of his fellow players, Aquilina had only words of praise.

In all of his previous media appearances, Xuereb has said that his goal for the team is to create a sense of family, and that results will come through this.

“The coach is achieving what he said he wants for the team – to amalgamate the team and form a family – and even in terms of training, we usually meet up a half an hour earlier to talk and have meetings so that team building does not take place only in training,” Aquilina said.

“There is an element of inclusion in this because we want to go further than just sport.

“Disabled people can make it in sport and with our trip abroad, we want to show that even if you have a disability, you can go overseas and take part in sport. Disability should not stop you in any way.”

The association held a press conference earlier this week, in conjunction with the Malta Basketball Association (MBA), and the Malta Olympic and Paralympic committees, to launch their team for the qualifiers.

Asked about the power of collaboration, Aquilina emphasised that no success of theirs has been a sole operation and that through further projects together, inclusion has a greater chance to grow.

“I believe that the success of the Malta Wheelchair Basketball Association did not come solely from our side. It has happened, is still happening, and will continue to develop further because we have a good working relationship with the Malta Basketball Association, the Malta Paralympic Committee and the Maltese Olympic Committee,” he said.

“In fact, we are doing all of this even through a project related to youth work in schools.

“I think that gradually, the influence on further inclusion through sport is getting through. Obviously, we haven’t done anything out of this world as yet, but our goal is to continue working on building upon what we have done already.”

SportMalta Award

The MWBA president has been at the forefront of work related to inclusion, as has recently been recognised by the 62nd edition of the SportMalta Awards through a nomination for the People’s Choice Awards.

While the winner of the award will be announced next weekend, Aquilina believes that the greatest victory for him will be if more people are aware of the need for inclusion.

“To be in the final is already very good. I don’t see this award as just a trophy from an Awards night but my win would be when inclusion continues to happen and when more people acquire more knowledge about what and how to create better inclusion in our society,” he explained.

“Obviously, if I win the SportMalta Award, as a human being, I’m going to be happy about it.

“However, the best award for me would be if wheelchair basketball continues to develop and if inclusive sport continues to be practiced in schools.

“From feedback that we receive from ‘Swish’ – because I work with Aġenzija Żgħażagħ – it is not only youths and children that are getting influenced by this but also the teachers.”

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