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Professionalism in the Sports Industry

 

 

Mr. Andre Fenech

Policy Development Manager of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry

Distinguished guests, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and honour to welcome you to the Chamber’s premises, La Borsa. Allow me to thank Mr Envic Galea for inviting the Malta Chamber to deliver this short speech on the occasion of the launch of the Andrew Bertie Sport Science Institute. Today’s launch will hopefully usher in a new attitude towards professionalism in the sports industry and this will act as the first milestone in achieving this culture change. It is important that two internationally renowned institutes, namely the University of Tor Vergata in Rome and Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge) will be directly involved in the project. This will also give the whole initiative an international dimension.

I would like to start by saying that various attempts to consolidate sports as a veritable economic sector, were made  in the past, but in many instances they have fallen flat because of the fragmentation and amateurism that exists within the sector.

I was asked to give the Malta Chamber’s position on the potential growth of sports as an Industry and its comparisons with the Tourism industry fifty years ago. Tourism is today the  biggest contributor to the Maltese economy, constituting nearly 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. This was not always the case, as locals might be aware and remember, the local tourism sector began to grow towards the beginning and the mid-1960s.

The Tourism Development Act of 1958, aimed at establishing tourism as a pillar of the Maltese economy. The tourism industry was considered as one of the solutions to the problem of the British military services rundown. The Maltese Islands were advertised as a tourist destination for their: sun and unspoiled seas and countryside, friendly people and rich historical and cultural heritage. Resort tourist sites marked for development were St. George’s Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Paradise Bay and Ghadira Bay and Comino. The second Development Plan developed Marsamxett Harbour as a yacht marina. The tourist industry soon created new jobs in other sectors such as real-estate, travel agencies, banking and insurance, the leisure sector and retail outlets. The 14,600 jobs in tourism by 1970 had made up for the loss of 5,400 jobs in the Services Departments. One disadvantage of early tourism in Malta was that British tourists accounted for 74% of all tourist arrivals thus this had created over reliance on this particular market. During the 1970s, Maltese tourism grew significantly diversifying in other European markets, with numbers growing from 170,800 in 1970 to 705,500 in 1981. In the mid 1990s, figures were as high as 1.2 million tourists per year.

During the initial years, the sector was somewhat amateurish and our focus on the British market also showed the inexperience in marketing our product with other lucrative segments. Malta was also undergoing a major economic transformation, from being a fortress island to becoming a market economy based on manufacturing and services.

 

The same could be said about the sports and leisure industry today, the sector has a lot of potential for growth, nevertheless the country’s piecemeal approach has so far yielded few results. There have been particular niches, such as diving, which are delivering very positive results but the sector as a whole is still in its infancy despite Malta’s sports tradition being one of the oldest in Europe since it was influenced by British rule over the country.

The Malta Chamber notes the further development being made by the Government in the sports infrastructure and incentives to athletes, here let me add that the Malta Sport Council – Kunsill Malti Għall-Isport (KMS) has a strong role to play. The Malta Tourism Authority through the Sports Tourism Scheme can also act in attracting international sports events to Malta.

The Malta Chamber also regards sport as another business opportunity, it is to this effect that  that we had established a yachting business section which involves people offering direct and ancillary services to this niche market. The same could be applied to other sports oriented sectors.

We believe that it is now the right time to take the sports industry to the next level by offering qualified coaches and infrastructure to locals and foreigners alike. The Malta Chamber, has always maintained the importance of creating links between industry and academia and the sports sector is no different. Through the establishment of this institute and the courses offered we believe that the country can start moving away from the amateurism and volunteering element that exists in the local scene. It is to no avail, that we invest hundreds of thousands or even millions of euros to improve our facilities, if our sport associations and coaching staff remain amateurish in nature. Introducing and enforcing international standards can also go a long way in promoting sport as a viable economic sector. We also believe that this institute through further support from the KMS can actively promote the volunteers’ engagement in the sector and act as a means to train these volunteers in pursuing a career in sport management.

In addition to this, one has to appreciate the limitations posed by our size. We can never aspire to compete at an international level with much larger countries especially with regards to resources and facilities. It is therefore, important that the sector consolidates and focuses its resources on the areas where it deems it could deliver. Malta has an established tourism infrastructure, mild climate and is easily accessible. This could for example attract more international sports conferences and sporting events all year round.

Without further ado, I thank you for inviting me and wish you all the best in your future endeavors for the benefit of the sports industry in Malta.