We need to get tough, for the love of the game
When Gianni Bencini founded Melita FC in 1933, the ethos of the amateur club was based on the maxim “for the love of the game”. Melita remains to this day, with special approval from the Malta Football Association, the only amateur football club in Malta.
But the ideal espoused by Mr Bencini has long been ditched in an era where football has become a very lucrative business, where players’ wages make heads turn. It seems footballers no longer play for the love of the game.
Nostalgia for a bygone era when football was purely an entertaining sport will do little to restore the values that Mr Bencini believed were an intrinsic part of the game.
Much as it is maligned, the onset of big money has helped improve the game as well as making it flourish and accessible to wider audiences. Football continues to enthral but money has also brought with it corruption, bribery and match-fixing.
The European football federation, UEFA, yesterday published the results of its inquiry into match-fixing allegations concerning the international match Malta played against Norway in 2007.
The findings show that a former national team player, who is still active in the domestic leagues, fell for the temptation of easy money and was guilty of match-fixing.
Two other footballers were cleared of similar charges.
The guilty player shamed himself and has set a very bad example for the hundreds of youngsters who play in nurseries and who aspire one day to represent their country.
Kevin Sammut should therefore be banned from the football community. His actions are deplorable.
What he did has tarnished Maltese football, which has long-suffered from accusations – often unsubstantiated – of corruption.
On the cusp of a new season that opens this weekend, the Malta Football Association has a daunting task ahead to restore credibility to the game.
When the scandal first came to light last year during the German trial of two notorious Croatian men, who ran what was described as Europe’s biggest match-fixing scandal, the MFA set the ball rolling to gather evidence.
Some decried that the MFA was slow to react and the association was at the receiving end when it kept the results of an internal inquiry under wraps, passing on the findings to UEFA.
Whether the MFA could have been more expedient and proactive is a moot point but now that UEFA has concluded its own investigation, a tougher stand on corruption is required.
This case is not unique. There have been other instances involving domestic league matches. But the fact that the malaise has reached national team level is worrying and necessitates tough action. The association’s organs that investigate corruption allegations should be beefed up and no stone left unturned in weeding out those people at club level who unravel the positive values football is supposed to portray.
Corruption and football must not sit side by side. The fight against corruption has to be relentless and ruthless but it must be accompanied by an equally important effort to deal with the perception of corruption.
Fighting a negative perception is as important as fighting corruption itself. A negative perception can breed complicity and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The MFA has a daunting task ahead, but it should not be alone. Club administrators, players and supporters also have an important role to play if they truly cherish the values of football.
For the love of the game, the football community must get its act together.