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Social distancing vs sports: the invisible opponent

Guest Speakers:

  • Ms Leanne Bartolo: Personal Trainer
  • Dr Joe Caruana Curran: President of the Aquatic Sports Association of Malta
  • Dr Angelo Chetcuti: General Secretary of the Malta Football Association
  • Dr Adele Muscat: Sports Psychologist


This webinar was part of the online event, “Shaping Malta’s Future: The New Norm” which was held in July 2020.


The Covid-19 pandemic was, and still is, a challenging time for sport activities, and it greatly impacted Maltese athletes. Global competitions such as the Tokyo Olympics were postponed and so were most of the national competitions. Many had to put their aspirations aside for this year, despite the various plans they had and the lengthy preparations which they put in, as was the case for Ms. Leanne Bartolo who was meant to compete in Bali. Mr Joe Caruana Curran also explained that some athletes will even miss out completely, on the opportunity to compete, due to age restrictions as they would have passed their eligibility to form part of a junior team.  


From a psychological point of view, Dr Muscat explained that all athletes handled the situation differently. Some viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to train more and do the things which they did not previously find the time for. Others, however, lost their motivation and stopped training. She differentiated between young and elite athletes, stating that elite athletes were more likely to view the situation as a chance to catch up with their life. Some athletes viewed the fact that the Olympics were postponed as having another year to train hard, and maybe achieve better results. Dr Muscat noted that anxiety in people increased, especially in males. Even though support was available through different channels, Dr Muscat noted a decrease in the number of people seeking such help. This is because people may not feel comfortable sharing their emotions online. She remarked that those who followed the health protocols religiously were the ones who suffered the most. She believes that we put all our focus on physical aspect and failed to consider mental health aspects.


The situation was one which we never faced before, and so, the biggest challenge of it all, was the uncertainty surrounding it. As pointed out by Dr. Angelo Chetcuti, one had to prepare for every eventuality, yet there were very little guidelines available, on how to adapt to this situation. Dr. Chetcuti expressed his disappointment at the lack of commitment they were faced with when they tried to discuss certain important decisions with the relevant stakeholders. Mr Caruana Curran, agreed with Dr. Chetcuti that they were not kept in the loop with regards to negotiations and the preparation of protocols by the relevant authorities.


Health protocols, that were designed to ensure safety, were challenging because they required people to do things in a different way. For instance, parents were no longer allowed to watch their children while they trained. Ms. Bartolo mentioned how she had to spice up her social media accounts and use it more frequently to increase people’s motivation. She also pointed out that, due to the restrictions that were in place, she could only accept eight people in her studio, leading to financial difficulties, because the income derived was not enough to break even. Both Mr Caruana Curran and Ms. Bartolo showed frustration at the lack of consistency shown in the design of protocols. For instance, Mr. Caruana Curran thought it unfair that watching a movie at an acceptable social distance is allowed, whereas watching a water polo game is not. He said that this reflects that, “sports is never given the rightful importance it deserves. Sports is always considered to be something that is an add-on to existence.”


All guest speakers agreed that we have a lot to learn from this situation, and that the positive takeaways will not be abandoned. Mr Caruana Curran mentioned that sports associations and athletes should be more prepared from their respective point of view. There was a common call to start focusing more on the present, and to make the most of what we have at this particular moment in time.