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Posted: May 20, 2003

Triathlon:Pressing for Triathlon's Inclusion in Mainstream Event

Triathlon Championships for the Small States of Europe to be Held in Malta

Paul Grech

It's not the winning that counts; it's the taking part. Despite the best efforts of commercialism, that maxim still holds today as much as it did when Baron Pierre De Coubertin first said it over a century ago. It is, after all, the reason for which the Olympics are so popular: if winning was the most important thing, it is doubtful whether so many countries would send their athletes to take part given their minimal chances of returning home with a medal.

Yet it is equally undeniable that everyone likes to win, or at least be in with a chance of winning. It is that concept which led to the setting up of the Games for the Small States of Europe, a small-scale version of the Olympics for European countries with a population of less than one million.

For the athletes hailing from these countries, these biannual games are the perfect stepping stone from national to international level. And they offer the sports involved the kind of exposure that might not normally be afforded to them.

Which is why various sporting disciplines try to make it into the list chosen for the games. It is also the reason for which, when it was announced that the 2003 edition of the Small Nations' Games were to be held in Malta the Malta Triathlon Association immediately set about pushing for their sports' inclusion in these games. Contacts were made with triathlon associations in other countries to ensure that these also did the required lobbying with their Olympic organisations. And, to consolidate these links, in 2000 the Malta Triathlon Association organised the first edition of the Triathlon Championships for the Small States of Europe.

Unfortunately, their bid to be included in the Small Nations Games was unsuccessful and triathlon was one of those sports that missed out.

Dermot Galea is Malta's leading triathlete. He is visibly frustrated by this exclusion. "I'm very disappointed. I didn't expect it especially after the results we've obtained in recent years. It is very disappointing to work hard for something and make a lot of sacrifices only to be turned down. I've given everything for this sport - both career and my studies - to turn professional. It would have been a great opportunity to show the high level of Maltese triathlon. Because in Malta it is only through the Small Nations Games that you can make an impact. Anything else doesn't seem to count."

Dermot - Cefalu

Nevertheless, the idea to hold a similar event exclusively for triathlon - which is officially recognised by both the International and Europeand Triathlon Unions - has his wholehearted backing. "It is an excellent idea. Although I take part in a number of races outside Malta, there is always a good level in the Triathlon Championships for Small States of Europe. It is always important that our sport is given a chance to grow and for Maltese athletes to compete against those coming from countries of a similar size."

Like every edition so far, there will be four countries taking par in this year's championships that will be held on Sunday: Malta, Cyprus, Monaco and Luxembourg.

Yet the ultimate aim of these championships remains that of pushing for the inclusion of triathlon in the Small Nations' Games. For Manuel Azzopardi, President of the Malta Triathlon Association, this would be "very important for us. The games generate a lot of interest among the general public which gets to know more about triathlon and what it involves."

"Our tri-athletes would be recognised as elite athletes by the Malta Olympic Committee," added the association's general secretary Faabienne Azzopardi "and they would benefit from all the advantages - financial and other - that this entails."

Getting to that point, however, isn't easy as Manuel explained. "There are only ten sports. From these, athletics and swimming have to be included as a rule whilst there must also be a team sport. As for the rest, it is a question of which sports are popular in the eight countries. Since triathlon only has backing in four of the eight countries, there might be other sports with five countries support and they get chosen."

Which increases the importance of winning the backing of those countries in which triathlon isn't particularly popular. Countries like Iceland. Kristjan Haukur Flosason - who is trying to organise triathlon in Iceland - almost apologetically explained that the number of triathletes in his country is limited, although on the increase.

Whilst praising the efforts of the Maltese associatin - "the Maltese Triathlon Association has been very active in the promotion of triathlon both in its country and in Europe" - he also applauded the idea of holding these championships. "It is a very good idea and one that encourages the athletes. We need such championships that offer a stepping stone between local and international competitions." An indication, perhaps, that Iceland might soon be included in the list of countries taking part.

A list that already includes Cyprus, who clearly are very supportive of these Championships as the President of the Cypriot Association, Bambos Spanoudes, explained. "We welcomed the idea of the Maltese Triathlon Association to hold this race every year as a test to the GSSE and supported them because this race will help improve in organising multinational races as far as operational matters are concerned as well as technical matters"

"The Small Nations' Games for Triathlon serve in a very good way our efforts to attract athletes and them training systematically because they consider the opportunity for competing abroad as plausible. We can also produce some descent results to the Cyprus Sports Organisation so we can justify our funding."

Like most other countries involved, triathlon in Cyprus is starting to get a foothold. "Triathlon, as many sports apart from maybe football and few others, is not exactly very popular in Cyprus. One of the main objectives of our federation is to give support and guidance for development to the five existing triathlon clubs on the island as well as helping groups in their efforts to form new triathlon clubs. We are also trying to stage races as spectator friendly as possible in order to attract the media."
More importantly, they've managed to get the backing of the Cypriot Olympic Federation. "Since the very first days of the Federation and included in the first business plan of the first governing body of the federation was the clause for giving max effort for the inclusion of the sport of triathlon in the official Small Nations' Games. For this reason we held meetings with Cyprus Olympic Committee and have manage to convince them to support our efforts and propose them selves the inclusion of triathlon in the game's program."

"Unfortunately our efforts have not been successful until now for reasons beyond our control and this makes all people involved feel a little disappointment. This, I hope will make us persistent in our pursuit of our objective for inclusion of the triathlon in the GSSE program."

Which, in two years' time will be held in Andorra. "We are hoping that next year the Triathlon Championships for the Small States of Europe are held in Andorra since the next Small Nations Games will be held there," says Manuel Azzopardi. This would be the logical thing to do, particularly in view of generating more support for triathlon. Unfortunately, the possibility of that happening is rather remote. "The Andorran federation isn't particularly strong and it could be that next year the championships are held in Malta once again."

More information about the Triathlon Championships for the Small States of Europe can be found at www.maltatriathlon.org. Comments about this article can be sent to pawlu_grech@yahoo.co.uk.


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