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Watch: Vassallo seeks re-election to fulfil MFA strategic plan

MFA president Bjorn Vassallo Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Malta Football Association (MFA) president Bjorn Vassallo has vowed to continue implementing the strategic plan launched four years ago that is aimed at ensuring that Maltese football makes the highest leap possible and puts the ‘Beautiful Game’ on strong foundations.

Vassallo spoke to the Times of Malta just a few days before he stands for re-election as MFA president when he will face the challenge of Santa Lucia FC president Robert Micallef during the General Assembly on March 15.

Vassallo has been involved in Maltese football for over two decades, first as a club administrator and then as a top official at the MFA. Still, he says he is still highly motivated to fully implement the strategic plan launched for Maltese football four years ago.

Bjorn Vassallo speaks on his decision to seek a second term as MFA president. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“My main goal was always to implement my strategic plan for Maltese football over two terms in office that would last eight years,” Vassallo told the Times of Malta.

“I published clear objectives that we needed to discuss, work on and implement so that we ensure that Maltese football makes the biggest leap forward possible in all areas of the Beautiful Game. There is a lot of work to be done in various areas such as grassroots, youth development, technical set-up, social mission and infrastructure.

“But I am very confident as I am surrounded by very capable people who understand my philosophy. In the last four years, we have created a platform for the work to be done and now our goal is to turn this philosophy into reality. I am confident that if I get a second mandate I can get the job done as my team has the credibility to do what it has promised.

“I am aware that I have a lot of challenges in front of me, similar to what other presidents have, which are sports-related, financial, as well as circumstances where you need to reach higher objectives.

“I apologise to all club members if during the past few years I was not close to them but one has to understand that we faced unprecedented challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ukraine war which brought with it a significant rise in inflation.

“But in the past weeks, I spoke with many people in the football family and my door will always be open for anyone who needs assistance.”

During the past weeks, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the clubs’ current financial problems. Many club presidents have been very vocal on the pressing need to receive more monetary assistance or they will have no other option but to walk away.

“The Malta FA has already taken steps to help the clubs from a financial point of view,” Vassallo said.

“The ideas are already on the table and some of them have also been turned into legislation, particularly at the elite level where the budgets and level of investment are far higher than normal. But now, the government needs to pass amendments to the country’s legislation and these things are not in the MFA’s control.

“Problems such as lack of cash flow and finances in a football club are similar to other sporting organisations where irrespective of how much money you put in, you don’t have a tangible return and you can see the final result only if you win a trophy.

“That is even more glaring if you don’t invest in a football nursery that can provide you with the youth element that nurtures young talent so that they one day break into the first team and then are sold to a team that plays in a higher level and eventually is selected by the national team.”

Vassallo said that the MFA has already taken three important steps to give clubs a more stable financial future.

“The first thing we did was to create the semi-professionalism operation through the Malta Premier League which will lead to financial sustainability as we have given the clubs the tools to benefit from new revenue streams,” Vassallo said.

“In terms of licensing and the competition regulation that will remain in the hands of the MFA and both the elements of marketing, branding, naming, and TV rights of the Premier League have been given to them so that they have opportunities of significant revenue and they are the ones who decide how best to exploit them.

Bjorn Vassallo speaks on MFA’s plans to provide more financial assistance to clubs. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“As regards licensing and the regulation aspect, the MFA will remain the body that will be responsible for it and both parties will have to understand each other to move forward. In terms of the organisation of the league, the MFA will give a five-year grant in terms of operation and that will decrease each year.

“What the MFA will save from that aspect, the money will be given to the lower tier leagues and that is accepted by the Malta Premier League clubs.”

Commercialisation Law

As regards the Commercialisation Law projects, Vassallo said that great progress has been made and he expects to see some clubs embarking on this crucial area in the next four years.

“I was the person along with the president of the day that proposed that Maltese football should go for the Commercialisation of Sports Facilities concept which would make clubs more financially sustainable and will enjoy a new revenue stream,” he said.

“The Legal Notice has been amended and now gives a clear guideline on what clubs are required to do to benefit from it. I am sure that there many clubs are pushing to be able to submit their applications and in the next term in office will see clubs who will start benefiting from it.”

In addition, Vassallo said that the MFA is planning to submit amendments to the legislature for Corporate Club ownership that will safeguard the interests of clubs and their presidents.

“We found ourselves in a situation where there was no legal ground that safeguarded club presidents who are the ones that fork out thousands of euros to invest in their club,” Vassallo said.

“At the moment, presidents are not making any profits from their investment in the club and have to rely on the vote of the club’s Annual General Meeting to remain at the club.

“But I wanted a change in legislation so that the club presidents’ financial investment is safeguarded. In April we will table new amendments for the legislation and by the end of summer, we hope that they will be put to a vote in front of the Maltese Parliament so that they can come into effect by the end of this year.

“The government has been an important stakeholder in this and this legislation will give the power to the clubs to become private companies and we safeguard the interest of the presidents who are making so many sacrifices.

“As regards clubs in lower divisions such as the Amateur League, we are planning to relax the licensing rules so that they can operate with less stress as there are many of them who instead of investing a lot on the first team opt to focus more on their nursery or the club’s infrastructure. That is something that we will put into effect in the next four years.”

In the past weeks, there has been a lot of controversy following the protests lodged by Mosta and Hibernians where it transpired that errors had been made by the association’s administration.

Asked whether he felt comfortable with how the situation was dealt with Vassallo said: “There are always things that one can improve. We didn’t hide that wrong administrative decisions were taken. Had we done that I wouldn’t be comfortable but at the same time I am not happy and I am comfortable that we have launched an investigation with an independent body who will investigate what happened.

“If the investigation rules that certain changes need to be taken, we will certainly follow what we are asked to do as I want to ensure that our members can play at the highest level of integrity and merit.”

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