The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

Gold medal for Malta? Only if corruption – and other things – were a sport

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 1 August 2021, 10:15 Last update: about 3 months ago

Unless the next Michael Phelps, Nadia Comaneci, Usain Bolt or Valentina Vezzali are born in Malta – or someone with similar potential buys a Maltese passport and chooses to represent us – we will probably never hear the Maltese national anthem being played at the Olympic Games.

As much as we like sport, and many of us do practise, we will probably never see the Maltese flag being raised as one of our athletes wins a gold medal. Even silver or bronze, which would be most welcome too, are beyond our reach.


At every Olympic Games, there is always at least one very small country, even smaller than ours, that wins a medal.

This year, till now, Bermuda had the pride, pleasure and honour to win a gold medal in the women’s triathlon event. With just 64,000 inhabitants, it became the smallest country to ever win a gold medal in the summer games. Closer to home, San Marino, with a population of just 33,000, also won its first, historic medal, a bronze in shooting. San Marino then went even better with a silver medal in the mixed team trap shooting event.

Liechtenstein, another small European nation with 38,000 citizens, has won 10 medals, two of them gold, and all in the winter games.  

Malta has 500,000 citizens, but none of our athletes has ever come close. Some will argue that there are, in all, 71 countries which have taken part but never won a medal at the summer Olympic Games. Many are much bigger than Malta. So we’re in good company. But then if countries like Bermuda, Bahamas, Luxembourg, Samoa, San Marino and Grenada can win medals, why can’t we?

We do excel in other things, not sports, and unfortunately most are not matters that make us proud.

Here is a list of the gold medals that Malta would win, or at least challenge for:


Corruption has existed since the start of mankind and every administration has had to contend with its scandals. But these last few years have heralded a new dimension of corruption which was allowed to grow unpunished and, worse, at times was also defended.

As if to sanction this unprecedented festering of corruption in Malta, towards the end of 2019, a consortium of investigative journalists chose then outgoing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as the “man of the year” in organised crime and corruption.

The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project noted that the leading factors behind the selection of Muscat were “a murdered journalist, shady offshore deals” and “a tiny nation in the grip of large-scale criminal interests”.

This goes a long way to show how Malta is perceived in international fora, and came after years of scandals that hit the Muscat government time and again. The bad reputation did not go away with his resignation, and Malta is still suffering the consequences of the culture of impunity and lack of action that pervaded his administration.

The more recent drubbings to our collective image came with the grey listing of Malta by the Financial Action Task Force. Malta became the first European Union country to be grey listed.

This was followed by the decision taken by the United Kingdom to put Malta on the list of high-risk countries for money laundering and terrorist financing.

These “honours” are hitting Malta negatively. It is not a gold medal we can be proud of.

But corruption is not only massive scandals. It could also be a job with the government or a permit for tables and chairs on a pavement given to someone who does not deserve it.


Eurostat statistics show that Malta is in top place in the European Union when it comes to the percentage of built-up areas within its territory. Almost a quarter of our land (23.7%) is covered by artificial surfaces. The Netherlands are in second place, but with 12.1 per cent of the land – nearly half – covered by man-made surfaces.


And it is apparent that we want to consolidate this position by building more and more, going wider and wider (apart from higher and higher).

The concrete grey jungle that Malta has become continues to get bigger and bigger. It is now next to impossible to take a photo of any scene without a crane marring the shot. It is also next to impossible to go from point A to point B without encountering a road which is blocked because some construction project is taking place. And sometimes the diversion leads to another road which is blocked too.

Do we really expect tourists to enjoy a visit to a permanent construction site that covers the whole country?


The construction industry plays a big role in the creation of noise in Malta. But it is not only the drilling that makes us feel that our ears want to explode.

Fireworks, for example, often shatter the silence, particularly in summer. Those sudden bangs starting in the early morning and finishing late at night are a disturbance, but continue to be allowed.

There is then noise caused by traffic, with some people finding pleasure in simply raising the engines of their cars and bikes, not to mention blowing a horn to draw the attention of their friend across the road.

There are few areas in Malta where one can find peace and quiet.


Speaking of traffic, we are steadily moving up the classification regarding the number of cars per capita. At present, we are in 16th place in the world, with nearly 600 cars per 1,000 population. We’re not near the podium in this regard, but if we continue adding thousands of cars on our roads each and every year we will soon get there.

We then continue to build bigger and wider roads, as if to encourage the acquisition of more cars. They have helped to ease the flow in some areas, but it is a short relief as there is always a bottle-neck somewhere down the line. Why some roads start with two lanes, then become one lane, and then two again is something that cannot be understood as it defeats the purpose.

That then major arteries are closed to allow for the letting off of fireworks makes the blood boil.

Population density

We are closer to the top places – seventh – when it comes to population density, with nearly 1,400 people per square kilometre. We have made a big jump forward in this category in the past years, seeing that the population has risen by 100,000 in the last 10-12 years.

We are gold medal winners if only European Union countries are taken into consideration. Only Monaco and Gibraltar have a higher population density on the Old Continent.


There are things which one cannot measure, and even here we are unfortunately among the best.

We do badly in terms of discipline. We seem to be a people who do not like to follow rules. We say we want to have regulations to guide us but then we ignore them.

Take waste disposal, for example. Many still do not follow the rules with regard to the days when organic, recycling and general waste is to be left on the doorstep to be picked up.

Behaviour on the roads is also horrific, both as drivers and as pedestrians. It is a miracle that we do not have many more accidents and deaths on the streets.

And we are a bad mannered people. Many of us do not know what a “queue” means, and that it is impolite to simply barge in front of others who are patiently waiting for their turn.

We will also be in the running for a medal if one existed for blasphemy and foul language. It seems ingrained in us to pepper our conversation with bad words. Some seem to enjoy articulating colourful expressions in an attempt to impress.


There is one thing which can make us proud – and this is the vaccination campaign against Covid-19.

We have taken the disease seriously, and an organised campaign by the government and health authorities has made it easier for people to get the jab.

Some international charts show that we are top of the world in this regard, with more than 81 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. Others put us behind the United Arab Emirates and Bhutan.

What is sure is that we are among the best in the world in this particular category. Some still resist vaccination and hold protests against the idea, but on the whole the great majority of the population has understood the benefits of being vaccinated – to protect oneself and others. Vaccination means lower risks of medical complications, hospitalisation and death.




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