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Ugly side of beautiful game

Various representatives from the Malta Football Association rece-ntly attended a conference in Rome organised by Interpol, UEFA, FIFA and the Italian Ministry for Internal Affairs entitled “The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game”. The phenomenon of “modern-age” match-fixing was the main focus of discussion.

Unfortunately, match-fixing is not news to any of us. I am aware of it. We all are.

Like many around the globe, from the Super League in China to the K-League in Korea, Germany’s Bundesliga, Finland’s Premier League, Turkey’s Super Lig, Italy’s Serie A, the CFL in Canada, the Swiss Super League and many other domestic leagues, the Maltese Premier League is also being crippled by match-fixing.

Not only by traditional corrupt practices, indulged in by passionate people who fork out money to corrupt players so that their team obtains a better league position, but the game is also victim to the equally condemnable but ever more dangerous phenomenon of match-fixing where large bets are placed online by organised syndicates, mostly (but not limited to) on Asian illegal betting websites.

Just to put this into perspective, an Asian betting syndicate can potentially rake in annual revenue that supersedes the annual turnover of the Coca Cola Company. This is not a Maltese phenomenon. It is a worldwide phenomenon which is affecting the majority of national leagues.

The latter should not put our mind at rest but it only meansthat all stakeholders have to work harder to combat this spreading cancer.

Football risks being eradicated due to unscrupulous people who are using others in various national leagues to corrupt vulnerable players in our local league so that they and others are able to bet big and safely secure massive winnings to the detriment of our sport.

The aim of the conference was to discuss this problem, which is on the increase, and more importantly to discuss how to prevent it.

The conference concluded with a statement in which all delegates declared that for match-fixing to be tackled more effectively there should be (1) partnerships, (2) information sharing, (3) co-ordination among all shareholders, (4) prevention through education and (5) proactive prevention and investigation.

The MFA is at present doing its best to save the game and address all forms of corruption.

The Office of the Prosecutor within the Malta FA investigated all information that has been brought to its attention, which in some cases also led to various players and officials being charged with match-fixing.

Some cases are still sub judice and others have been archived due to lack of evidence.

The MFA plans to initiate an education campaign to inform and make young players and stakeholders aware that succumbing to corruption is not the right thing to do in any context.

Naturally, both the MFA and its member clubs have to continue to strive to ensure players in Maltese leagues are not considered “vulnerable” players who may succumb to this temptation and thus make the Maltese leagues more attractive to illegal betting.

Ensuring players are given adequate minimum rights by local football clubs, and the MFA doing likewise so these rights are adequately implemented, may also contribute towards making the participants in the Maltese leagues less susceptible to corruption.

The conference delegates agreed that, despite efforts of national associations such as the MFA, match-fixing is an organised phenomenon at par with crimes like drug trafficking, and concerted action is required for any initiatives to combat match fixing and render them effective.

Indeed, as match fixing is considered a lower risk offence, criminals previously involved in drug trafficking have begun to diversify and turn to match-fixing instead.

The MFA and its member clubs and associations, the Government of Malta, the Malta Police Force, Interpol and the betting companies together with all other stakeholders should tackle this problem in unison and discuss measures that may be implemented on a local level, similar to those that have been implemented and are very effective in Italy. This in order to effectively address the problem.

Unfortunately, in footballing circles, few have understood the extent of the problem and consequently have not given the matter the priority it demands.

The MFA is working on regulations to protect whistleblowers.

These regulations are of utmost importance and will seek to protect those people who wish to disclose corrupt practices or illegal betting related to football.

The majority of cases regarding corrupt practices that have surfaced and been decided by the competent board within the MFA were based on evidence provided by whistleblowers, which shows how vital it is to have regulations in force to protect such people.

Finally, I refer to the analogy used by Franz Tabone, the MFA Integrity Officer, during his passionate speech at the conference in Rome.

He said he wished to see the old shoddy street football transformed into a brand new, shiny football and further encourage all stakeholders to transform the game of football from its current state into one that we are all proud to form part of, which is all about sporting ability and behaviour.

Adrian Camilleri is the Malta Football Association’s Prosecutor.

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