Lord Plumer who was governor of the Maltese Islands from 1919 – 1924 and a great supporter and admirer of the Maltese water polo teams, first thought of the idea of sending a water polo team to the Paris 1924 Olympic games. Unfortunately, however because his term of office was nearly over, there was no time to make the necessary arrangements for the Malta’s participation.
After Lord Plumer’s departure, one of his staff mentioned the Governor’s idea of Malta being represented at the Olympic Games and soon one of Malta’s most prominent water polo players of the time, Carmel “Meme” Busietta, started the ball rolling for Malta’s participation in the Amsterdam Olympiad of 1928. The prospect of our Island being represented along with the other nations in the international arena in competitions of such magnitude caught the imagination of all the water polo enthusiasts and soon the Amateur Swimming Association of Malta came into being holding its first meeting in 1925.
Immediately after being accepted as a member of the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), Malta applied for the participation in the Amsterdam Olympiad. But to everyone’s dismay the Dutch Organizing Committee refused this on the grounds that Malta could not participate as a nation because it was a colony of Great Britain.
The Maltese, through the excellent relations with Mr. Hern, at the same time Secretary of the ASA of Great Britain and also the FINA, sought the help of the world’s swimming body who in turn asked a legal adviser to take up Malta’s case. After a prolonged legal battle, Malta’s participation as a nation was accepted. However as all the dealings with the international authorities were being conducted by the ASA of Malta and as the official invitation was to be sent to “the official committee representing all sports of Malta” a Malta Olympic Committee had to be formed.
This was soon set up and the Malta OC held it’s first meeting on the 5th of June 1928 at 153 Strada Zecca, Valletta. Things had to move very fast, but Malta did finally make it to Amsterdam Olympiad being represented by its water polo team. Malta took part for the second time in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 again in water polo and athletics. Coming so close at the end of WWII with Malta still devastated from the German bombings, Nestor Jacono was Malta’s sole representative at the 1948 London Olympiad. With Rome being so close. Malta was represented by the largest contingent ever at the 1960 Olympic Games, which incidentally were broadcast direct in Maltese for the first time. Shooting and Cycling were the two sports Malta took part in at the Munich 1972 Games. Despite a call from USA President Jimmy Carter for a boycott from all non Communist countries, Malta did not heed this advice and represented in Moscow in shooting, cycling and Archery. And it was a good decision indeed for Malta obtained one of its best ever results. Joanna Agius became Malta’s first woman when she took part in the Double FITA finishing in the penultimate place one better than her male counterpart who was last.
An archer and two shooters were again included in the Malta contingent to the Los Angeles 1984 Games together with an athlete, a board sailor and two wrestlers. These Games will forever be remembered by all Maltese as Peter Bonello, our sailor, managed to finish 9th place out of 39 competitors to register the best ever result by any Maltese, so far, at the Olympic Games. In the 1996 Centenary Games in Atlanta, Malta again obtained one of its best results when Frans Pace, our shooter hit 119/125 (95.2%) in the trap to finish 20th out of a total of 52 shooters. However, one must point out that Malta has taken part also in the Commonwealth games where Laurie Pace, our judoka, won a bronze medal in 1990. Manuel Abela, our shooter, landed a bronze medal in the 1993 Mediterranean Games when they were held in the South of France whilst Carol Galea went one better when she won a silver medal in the Marathon during the same games which were held in Bari, Italy, in 1997.
Undoubtedly, one of the Malta Olympic Committee’s biggest milestones was its idea and the subsequent initiatives take for the setting up of the Games of the Small States of Europe. It was Malta who first suggested the establishment of such an organization during the European National Olympic Committees (AENOC) General Assembly in Athens in May 1981 and again mentioned during the International Olympic Congress held in Baden-Baden in Germany during the same year. Despite Malta’s various attempts to bring delegates together to further expand and develop the project, it was not before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympiad that the representatives of the eight nations got down to real business. Encouraged by the personal intervention of H.E. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC President, the first Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) were held in San Marino in 1985 and have been held every two years in different countries belonging to the Organisation ever since.
Undoubtedly Malta’s best result so far has been obtained in 2001 when the Games were held in San Marino. The Maltese managed to grab a total of 7 gold medals, 12 silver medals and 16 bronze medals. When the Games were held in Malta in 1993, Malta also achieved a very good result. The great excitement and encouragement of the local supporters who thronged all venues, Malta won a total of 31 medals, 4 gold, 7 silver and 20 bronzes. On the other hand the Iceland Games in 1997 also proved to be successful for the Maltese athletes as they garnered 27 medals of which five were gold, ten silver and twelve bronzes.