“Psychological bullying and racist comments are pushing young athletes away from sports”

A sports psychologist has said that psychological bullying and racist comments are pushing many young athletes away from sports. Dr Adele Muscat spoke with Television Malta after a teenage footballer alleged that while she was playing last Sunday there were some people outside of the football ground who started calling her names because of her father and because of her skin colour.

Maya Lucia is 17 and is one of the most promising footballers in Malta; in fact last year she was asked to form part of the national team.

“Only a while ago I was watching them play and now I will be playing with them, it is very surreal. It was such a nice thing for the team and my family and I will do everything I can to make them happy.”

Although at the moment all matches are being held without supporters, over the weekend Maya was allegedly the target of racist comments during the under-19 championship match between her team, Raiders Għargħur and Mosta at the Marsascala football ground. She brought up the issue herself on social media.

Dr Adele Muscat, who is a lecturer at the Institute of Sport at the University of Malta, explained that racist comments have a great psychological impact on an athlete and may cause trauma.

“The athlete might not be able to sleep, may be gripped by anxiety and even palpitations, and might even stop practicing their sport because of emotional burn out.”

Dr Muscat said that the alleged case of racism against May Lucia is not an isolated one and in fact she has met with situations where athletes could not take any more and stopped their sport.

“We have a situation especially among young people, because they have been bullied one way or another, or certain comments were directed at them while on the pitch, and even online.  Young people say a lot of things to each other online, and this might make some of them stop practicing their sport.”

The psychologist, who works with the Malta Football Association, has appealed to parents to set an example to their children and refrain from racist or disparaging comments, because it might be their own children who are targets of insults next time.

Dr Muscat explained that the pandemic has not helped either because she has noted the psychological impact on a number of young athletes, especially those who were hoping to go play or compete abroad.

“We have seen an increase of players seeking help and support because of this situation where they have been forced to stop, then start again, and they do not know when they will be able to compete. Things were going well for them in their sport and now everything has stopped.”

The football association and the Police have been informed of this case, which was condemned by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and various sports federations.