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19950720_The Judo Association has passed through years of hardship despite their successes

    If there has been a successful sport in these last few years there is no doubt. It was judo. An olympic as well as a combat sport, is has given Malta the greatest satisfactions in these last years - from medals in the Commonwealth Games to the recent exploit of six medals in the Luxembourg Small nations Games. 
    However this success has not been easy. The Malta Judo Association has passed through years of hardship because they do not have adeqaute facilities where to train. One sarcastic question that may be asked is: What would have happened had the association been provided with decent facilities? The answer is hypothetical but obviously there would have been even better results.
    Mr Envic Galea, the MJA president explained the problems faced by his association. 
    Mr Galea is also sports director the European Judo Union and says his position had helped him a lot. "I knew what was happening abroad. We had been constantly watching what was happening through scouting and compared them to our top athletes."
    He said his association was the only one to understand what Pippo Psaila, technical director of the Malta Olympic Committee, wanted.
    "Mr Psaila is a great tactician and his only problem is that he comes from only one sport. But he had four years to make a programme. He made a proposal two years ago of bringing over top Russian coaches to effect scientific training. The comparison that comes to mind is repairing a car by feeling or through computerised tests."
    "We had the mechanism to test our athletes and assess their level of fitness and whether they were overfit for injuries. Before we never had the professional backing. With regards to the Judo coach he said he had spoken to the Russian president of the association and he had told him that at the moment he was the only one available."
    But the story goes way back to 1991 when the Malta Olympic Committee wanted a programme for the preparations of the Games that were to be held in Malta in 1993. "We gave them all they wanted and also spoke to Dr Francis Zammit Dimech for Judo to be included in the upgrading of sport facilities."
    The president said that in their last programme in 1992 they told the MOC they needed a hall where to hold training sessions. At that time we would also have promoted Malta for sports tourism because many countries wanted to come over to Malta. "But we were left our from the budget for the facilities. We then pinpointed the St Andrew's gymnasium as an ideal place. The battle now was between a basketball club and a national association preparing for the Small Nations Games."
    "Tony Formosa, from the ministry, helped us a lot and on September 1, we applied for the lease. When we went there the gym appeared we went there the gym appeared to have been abandoned. There were no windows, no water and no proper lighting. But while we were using it problems arose because the basketball league had started and Dr Michael Frendo was making pressure on us to leave seven months before the Games."
    The MJA president said they insisted on upgrading the facility so as to be able to bring over foreign opposition and a French coach. "The refurbishment of the place with out labour cost the association Lm 1,200. We then had an extraordinary general meeting as we were told to leave the place. When we returned, the electricity mains had been taken off so we had to stop training for two weeks."
    Among other obstacles at the time, Mr Galea said they found metal and super glue in locks. 
    On the arrival of the French coach in January, the gym was still with our water while the pool was being built. "from past experience I knew there could be space there so I wanted to see the plans of this new facility."
    But the pool was ready and the Judo Association pretested with the Malta Olympic Committee because all the halls had a column in the middle for support. "The architect involved,  when contacted, said he did not know of the problem before because otherwise that could have been solved."
    In May the association managed to win six medals- a gold, a silver and four bronze. Only tennis had performed better winning two golds.
    But after the games they received a notice of evacuation. "Between July and September we had many meetings and on September 7, Dr Frende decided that in they left the place the government would build them a centre."
    At the time, Robert Engerer from the University Sports Complex management, offered the association their facilities till the Judo complex was built. "The only place that was suitable were the stores even though there was still a column on the middle." The floor was made of concrete and there was a big water tank which was not removed. "We spent Lm 1,400 to make padded walls and a wooden platform. But there was flooding and also a drainage problem resulting from the toilets on top of the store."
    The contractor had to remove the tiles and repair the damages. 
    In the 1994 budget the government had allocated Lm80,000 for the Judo facility. "In this sense Dr Frendo's promise had been kept. The Ministry then changed hands and on April 21, they wrote to the new minister, Dr Michael Refalo. After a meeting in May they decided that if the centre was to be built it would also involve other sports."
    Mr Galea said they agreed and because of the use of equipment, gymnastics and weightlifting could be accommodated. "The reason why there cannot be room for basketball and volleyball is that each tatami (mat) weighs 20kilos and there are 256." 
    He said they had pinpointed St Andrew's as the best site because it was close to a lot of hotels and would reduce the transports costs.
    "We had a meeting with two members of the Planning Authority, Dr Chris Aimos and Eillis McCullough, but after they approved the rejected by the Planing Authorty.
    "The aim of the European Judo Union was to make Malta a training centre in Southern Europe. And that would have led to sports tourism." 
    Mr Galea said the programme for the Small Nations Games cost them Lm 38,000. He said that at first (in November) the association found serious deficiencies in the tactical approach taken by the Russian coach. "It was evident that there was lack of experience," he said.
    The MJA president said it was evident that they needed space for training. "Another saga continued and we had to organise that national championships last February in the parking area of the national swimming pool. For the first time we went outdoors but judo remains an indoor sport."
    Then, in the Small Nations Games, as everyone is aware, Judo managed to win one gold, two silver and three bronze. "We made our part," he said. "But I was disappointed with the results of Jason Trevisan, Laurie Pace and John Zammit. In judo you can never win on defence. I feel that we could have won at least another gold."
    But the president is worried with the gap that exists between Malta and Iceland. "They have a facilities and the finances. They had even gone for a training camp in Canada before the Games."
    He said he was not ready to do what he did in the past. "There are solutions and the ministry is taking the centre with great importance. But when one considers that is takes a year to finish and the programme of training starts in September we are already running late,." 
    If the complex is not built, the Judo association will change its strategy and send two or three athletes abroad. 
    Mr Galea said they had a Lin 5,000 deficit. "We want a centre which we can manage. In future it would be a centre for children. The place is behind the stand opposite the VIP area at the national pool.
    "We have not taken the decision to confirm our coach yet because we need a suitable place. Sports preparation had to be professional from all ends. We are confident that the authorities have examined the circumstances and taken the necessary steps. When the facilities are available, we will tackle the professional availability of our athletes. The athletes train daily early in the morning and they also lose a lot of money. We have to be professional if we are to improve," he said.