Mark Cutajar is the CEO of Sport Malta. Few days before the hand over of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union to Estonia, it is a pleasure and an honour for EOSE that he agreed to contribute highlighting key challenges and opportunities ahead with as special focus on the worked carried under the Maltese Presidency.
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Malta took over for the first the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1st of January 2017. Could you please let us know what has been the process and main steps carried out and implemented to prepare the Presidency? MC: “Although officially Malta took over the Presidency of the Council on the 1st of January 2017, preparations for the Presidency started almost a year before this official date. Malta was part of a trio together with the Netherlands and Slovakia. A number of meetings were held and a common strategy was developed. Moreover a Presidency Unit at SportMalta was set up with members given specific roles which varied from content to logistics. Furthermore consultation with the European Commission and the European Council paved the way for the drafting of a number of documents that Malta was planning to put forward for discussion. With Malta choosing social inclusion as one of its priorities, a number of pilot projects such as MOVE360 (A pilot project aimed at 9 year old children coming from poor socio-economic backgrounds where they are being offered the possibility to learn about nutrition, to improve academically and to be physically active. This project is aimed to channel the participants to adopt a healthier lifestyle through sport) and a volunteering course (SportMalta in collaboration with MCAST is running a course for sport volunteers through which an accreditation may be obtained and eventually a database of sport volunteers will be created) were launched. In November 2016, Malta also held its first official event when it hosted over 40 Human Resources experts in a seminar Engaging Skilful Volunteers, which was not only a stepping stone for discussion but served also to kick-start the Presidency events.”
For this important historical milestone, the Ministry for Education entrusted SportMalta, the national entity for sport in leading the sport agenda for these six months (January 2017 – June 2017). Would you consider that the ESF funded SUCCESS project (September 2013 – June 2015) -which aimed to build capacity of public service sports administration in Malta- was a milestone in the preparation of the SportMalta team towards the delivery of this mission?
MC: “Effectively the ESF funded project to train SportMalta’s employees in administration and management left an important legacy throughout these years. Professional skills learnt throughout the number of modules served when administrators were having this Presidency challenge.”
The newly adopted EU Work Plan for Sport (2017-2020) clearly highlights the importance of workforce and skills development as it includes a specific Expert Group devoted to this thematic. This is something we, at EOSE, are advocating and facilitating for the sport and active leisure sector since many years now. To what extend do you consider crucial for the sport sector to adapt itself and adopt an approach of workforce development?
MC: “The fact that all Member States agreed that one of the two expert groups of the Work Plan is effectively Skills and human resources development in sport, is a proof of importance that Member States need to give to skills development. Workforce development can facilitate the process to develop practical competencies, know-how and attitudes necessary to perform and thus improving the individual economic status. Moreover sport in its various areas can contribute towards healthier individuals particularly in the physiological, psychological and sociological aspects having a ripple effect on the rest of the community.”
What do you consider as the main challenges and obstacles for the sector in terms of workforce development?
MC: “Throughout the years sport had an exponential economic importance, however in many countries this importance is not yet felt. Developing skilful workers in the field of sport can be linked to the benefits that sport itself can give to the wider community. Sport can bring positivity and above all it can reach out towards people at risk. Giving the necessary skills to a wide range of individuals (employees, coaches, entourage of athletes, volunteers, senior citizens) and engage them in the sports industry can change these obstacles into opportunities. These opportunities will not only limit their effect within the sporting community but also reach out to other employment sectors.”
Last but not least, for which main achievement would you like the Maltese Presidency to be remembered as regard to its contribution to the overall sport policy? What are the mid and long term impact you are dreaming of? MC: “Malta is the smallest Member State of the European Union, nevertheless our objectives were very ambitious throughout these six months we convinced other Member States and managed to reach consensus on a number of important issues. The Council Conclusion for sport to be utilised as a platform for social inclusion through volunteering found some resistance from individual Member States however our sound arguments finally managed to convince everyone. The drafting of the EU Work Plan for sport 2017-2020, was not only a challenge in itself but Malta presented an innovative and effective structure which was very much different from the two previous Work Plans. A number of activities and events were organized throughout these last months. The European Sport Forum and the European Youth Sport Forum amongst others brought to Malta over six hundred delegates who were all pleased and satisfied not only with the content but also with the organisation of these events. The Directors General meeting served as a showcase of best practices for SportMalta whilst the topic chosen for the Policy Debate within the Council of Ministers, Utilizing the Sport Media to Strengthen Social Inclusion served as food for thought to all the Ministers who contributed towards this success.”
Interview by Carole Ponchon, EOSE European PR & Projects manager