Towards the Għażliet Sportivi Nazzjonali, the history of the prestigious event

The man behind sports journalism and sports administration in Malta is surely Benny Pace, the mastermind behind the annual sports awards ‘Sportiv tas-Sena’ – Sportsman of the Year.

Pace passed away on Wednesday 24th February 2010 but his legacy lives on.

Whenever Benny Pace mentioned ‘Sportiv tas-Sena’ his eyes glared enthusiastically, especially when he reminisced about a country where sport during the post-War era was still developing. No recognition to athletes and officials had been given in our small world of sport.

The ‘Sportiv tas-Sena’ award materialized when Benny Pace, as editor and publisher of the modest 3 pence 4-page sport newspaper ‘The Sporting Star’, gave coverage to local sport activities. It was the ideal platform for readers to choose who deserved to be honoured as ‘The Sportsman of the Year ‘ – ‘L-Isportiv tas-Sena’.

‘The Sporting Star’ readers had the privilege to choose and give their preferences by means of a coupon published in the newspaper and to send it by post. This led to a drastic increase in sales and as Benny Pace always pointed out with half a smile: ‘…..sales increased as definitely athletes contesting the awards bought as much as possible copies of the newspaper to fill in their names in order to get the best amount of nr.1 preferences’.

Benny Pace was aware that similar contests around Europe were held differently, either chosen by specialized panel of sport personalities, or chosen by the respective national Olympic Committee and through voting by sports journalists.

As editor of ‘The Sporting Star’ he tried to combine these ideas in the sense that reporters and sport contributors for the newspaper nominated candidates, and readers casted their preferences. His aim was also to be in line with the European media, as in England ‘News of the World’ had sponsored the Athletics Championships, ‘Daily Mirror’ partnered with the Gran Prix, L’Equipe in France and ‘La Gazetta dello Sport’ in Italy organized the main cycling competitions respectively – Tour de France and Giro d’Italia while ‘France Football’ had already organized the first editions of ‘The Golden Ball’.

With this in mind ‘The Sporting Star’ started to organize ‘The Sportsman of the Year’.

At the same time Benny Pace who was ahead of any other sport official when it came to sport administration at national level, he was also the Founding Member of the Malta Basketball Association, the Malta Boxing Association and the Malta Darts Association besides the organization of the Sports Festival where cycling races were introduced.

One has to keep in mind the challenges sport in Malta had to face between the end of the 1950’s and the pre-independence era where sponsoring a sport event was never heard of and financial backing of sport activities was rather difficult.

However, in view of these difficulties Benny Pace recalls that: ‘……. following a meeting with Charles Camilleri, advertising representative of C.A.P.A Agency a meeting with Mr. Paul Smith – General Manager for the cigarette manufacturing company Carreras Malta Ltd. was scheduled. The meeting with Mr. Smith was rather positive in the sense that Carreras Malta Ltd. agreed to pay all expenses incurred to buy the Shield for the winner of the newly set ‘Sportsman of the Year’.’

The first Organizing Committee was set with Benny Pace as Chairman, delegate from Carreras as main sponsors and representatives of National Associations. For the first edition 2699 voting coupons were received.

The finalists for the 1960 Sportsman of the Year Award were:

Wilfred Pirotta, who had obtained great results as the World Championship of Underwater Fishing.

Wilfred Asciak, billiards player who by 1960 had won ten consecutive national titles.

Wilfred Attard, national champion of chess for the fourth consecutive time.

Wenzu Vella, clay-shooter who had represented Malta at the Olympic Games in Rome.

Following the adding of votes of the first ever ‘Sportsman of the Year Award’

Wilfred Pirotta got 1103 votes;
Wenzu Vella 865 votes;
Wilfred Asciak 424 votes and
Wilfred Attard 307 votes.
The official presentation of the ‘Carreras Shield’ was held at the Anglo Maltese Club in Merchants Street Valletta with Governor General Admiral Sir Guy Grantham presenting the shield to Wilfred Pirotta as winner of the first ever edition of the Athlete of the Year Award.

On announcing Pirotta as winner, Benny Pace went a step further when he announced that young athlete with special needs Angela Scicluna was chosen as ‘The Promising Athlete for 1960’ as a result of the medals won at the Paraplegic Games in Stoke Mandeville.

This year’s edition of the Għażliet Sportivi Nazzjonali will be held on Saturday 2nd March 2024.

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