The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

50 Shades of Greats: ‘Always approach tasks with passion and enthusiasm' - Wilfred Sultana

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 28 June 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 15 days ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets WILFRED SULTANA, a journalist, publisher and promoter. He speaks about his early days, the Malta-Pozzallo Windsurf Race, Superyacht In-dustry Seminars and his personal achievements.

Wilfred Sultana was born on 7 January 1949. He had a very happy and serene childhood both at home and at school. He was even an altar boy. He received his education at Stella Maris Collage in Gzira. "I stayed throughout my whole schooling years at this college. I was very active and involved in many school activities - drama, table-tennis and football. In one table-tennis national juniors' tournament I even reached the final losing to Alex Anastasi who later became Malta's leading player for many years."

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His first love was for football. "Yes it was my favourite. At my time we had a number of budding footballers at Stella Maris like Charles Miceli, Ronnie Saliba and Louis Arpa. I was described as "a quieter sort of player but in the half-back line he is a dominating figure".  "In early 1967 I was one of 22 schoolboys for Malta's team to compete in a N.S.B. International Schoolboys Tournament. Four teams - Malta, Spain, France and Belgium - took part in this tournament. Spain was the winner with Malta gaining second place followed by Belgium and France in third and fourth place respectively. All the games were played at The Gzira Stadium, while training under Louis Borg and John Calleja was held at the Manoel Island ground. A typical Malta team line-up during this tournament was: A. Brimmer (C. Pisani), V. Zammit, W. Sultana, F. Falzon, M. Caruana, F. Mifsud, R. Saliba, J. Cauchi, W. Vassallo, A. Sant and L. Arpa."

"I was even a Valletta FC player - Minors and U21 but then I stopped playing because of my studies. My father used to tell me then "son, keep in mind that with football you don't make a decent living!! Of course this was much before the time of Messi and Ronaldo".

Sultana's experience and love for sailing started in a rather interesting way. "When I joined the Civil Service in late 1967 I was posted at the newly set-up yachting centre. Here my boss was Captain Arthur Podesta, the father of the famous yachtsman Arthur Podesta, who was also the secretary of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. This was my first contact with yachts and yachtsmen and when I started to familiarise myself with yachting as an industry and as a sport.

"In this period my inclination towards my real 'passion' - journalism, publishing and events' organisation hit the ground. In fact 50 years ago in 1970 I published my first magazines and these were about football - The Way To The Final, a souvenir of the 1970 Mexico World Cup and the 1st edition of European Soccer Scene, which recorded the participation of Maltese teams in the Champions Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the Fairs Cities' Cup. The lack of promotional material about the yachting industry in Malta and my new enthusiasm towards publishing boosted my desire to present a magazine in 1975 by the name of Spinnaker - Yachting news from Malta to move to the publication of the directory Yachting in Malta in 1976."

Many think that Wilfred's involvement in the matter as journalist and publisher gives the impression he is a great sailor which Sultana is not. "I am a by-product of my true passion. Besides covering windsurfing, sailing and yachting, I was behind countless articles in local media concerning local events related to snooker, boxing, 4x4 off-road, power boats, football, boat shows and travel tourism. As I always did with any events I organised, I also handled the press reporting of four international seminars on the Malta Yachting industry held in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014.

Wilfred is synonimous with the Malta-Pozzallo Windsurf Race being the pioneer of this initiative. "In the 70s and 80s windsurfing was most popular and after establishing the Wishbone Open Class Windsurfing Championship as the biggest event locally I dreamt of a new challenge. This all became a reality on 2 October 1982 when two Maltese board-sailors, Peter Bonello and Paul Ellul, registered the first ever successful windsurf crossing from Sicily (Porto Palo) to Valletta (54.3 n.m.) in 9 hours 31minutes. For 10 years until 1994, the Malta-Sicily Windsurf Race attracted top level intenational windsurfers and foreign media to what became known as the 'longest windsurf race in the world'."

But what was behind all this success? "One of the prime aspects, which contributed to the success of this race, was the enthusiastic support extended by various skippers and by other keen collaborators, making up the Maltese yachting community. On the sixth edition, in 1989, the support fleet was made up of 25. I am also grateful to the media who always gave this and other events I organised, their fullest support and consideration."

The Middle Sea Race is something that he was involved in for a number of years. How prestigious is this race and what did it mean to Wilfred? "As I mentioned earlier, I was posted at the Yachting Centre - the executive secretary then was Capt. Arthur Podesta who was also secretary to the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Here I used to type meetings' minutes, race notices and other material related to the Club and its activities. When I became more involved in journalism I always wrote about it with passion and enthusiasm. One of my favourite articles goes back 43 years when I had the pleasant experience of meeting Jimmy White, who together with Alan Green were the prime instigators behind the inception of the Middle Sea Race. The outcome of my meeting with White was an article entitled, How it all began, published then and featured again in the media in 2009. Over the years the Rolex Middle Sea Race established itself as a world sailing classic and undoubtedly is the most prestigious event on Malta's international sports calendar."

Snooker promotions was another milestone for Wilfred. World-class players were brought over every year for ranking tournaments. How did it kick off? "For some 14 years (1994-2008) I was director and founder member of the Snooker Promotions (Malta) Co. Ltd, together with Joe Zammit and Richard Balani, a sports event company which organised and managed several important world-class sports events in snooker and pool. Because of my illness my role was taken over for a number of years by my son Ramon. Those were memorable times for Malta as a destination, where invaluable hours of live and recorded exposure was given on Eurosport channels. It was also an unforgettable time for local snooker lovers to see so many big names of the game playing here."

This year marks Wilfred's 50th year in journalism. But Sultana had a colourful career all thoughout. "Going through such an active life has been an honour and of great satisfaction whether as a journalist, publisher or an events' organiser. As a journalist I wrote countless articles in local and foreign media and as a publisher I started with The Way to the Finals and European Soccer Scene (1970), Spinnaker - Yachting news from Malta (1975), 12 editions of Yachting in Malta between 1976 and 2017, Pozzallo For The Yachtsmen (2009) and various  souvenir magazines related to different activities... As an organiser I took care of the Wishbone Open Class Windsurfing Championship, Malta-Sicily Windsurf Race, secured the Maltese participation in the Giro D'Italia Di Windsurf and Euro-Africa Windsurf Race. I also organised the first ever Superyacht Industry International seminar held in Malta (2009), three similar seminars in 2011, 2013 and 2014, as well as a Pre-Election Forum, involving three political parties - AD, MLP and PN (2013), plus a Maritime Careers Day Seminar (2014)."

During this period there were particular moments that are still encrypted in his mind - winning the Official of the Year and also other international honours. What do all these mean to Wilfred? "Every human being appreciates seeing his work noted, acknowledged and acclaimed. Yes, humbly I'm honoured that my work has been widely recognised. In 1986 - Sport Official of the Year (Għaqda Kittieba Sports - Malta); 2013 - Life Career Recognition in Media and Sport (Għaqda Ġurnalisti Sports - Malta); 2016 - Life Career Recognition as a Journalist, Publisher and Events' Organiser (One Tribute  Awards - TV/Radio Group); 2017 - Lifetime Recognition Award (MailSail Boats and Yachting Magazine), Outstanding Contribution To Yachting Award (Yachting Malta) and the Trofeo del Mare (Reggione Siciliana, the Lega Navale Italiana (Sezione Pozzallo). Since 2015 I have also been the Commodore of the Malta Cruising Club."

It was not all rosy for Wilfred who passed through difficult times due to health reasons but his fighting spirit gives him strength to battle on and keep strong. "Yes, my family and I passed through the most difficult of times when at the age of 48 I was diagnosed with a mysterious condition that today, 23 years later, is still a mystery. Once I wrote an article entitled, From daydreams to nightmares and truly that is what we went through. A chronological narration of my illness is too vast and is bound to become tedious. Naturally, there were moments when I was really down, when I couldn't care less whether I lived or I died. But somehow I survived. I am definitely far from being completely healed, but over the years a grand transformation has occurred. In spite of my intimate understanding of how arbitrary and cruel life can be, it has not diminished my belief that life is beautiful and must be cherished. Since no specific medical explanation has ever been given for my condition I modestly compare the virus that attacked me to that of a Tsunami, which wreaks havoc wherever it hits. When the anger of the seaquake subsides, some of the damage done is repairable but unfortunately, there is an extent of harm which is beyond healing."

Turning to a more personal aspect, Sultana delved into his taste buds and his favourite food. "I love all that is Italian, but to be precise, Sicilian food is my favourite."

Wilfred enjoys travelling and every destination has its particular attractions. "Last year I visited South Africa, Morocco and Egypt. three fascinating countries with their own distinct characteristics, the three of which I can refer to as favourites."

His final message to the young generation is short but precise. "Sport is necessary for a healthy and serene life. Like in every other hobby or pastime, even work for that matter, always approach tasks with passion and enthusiasm."

 


 

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