Match-fixing is killing football - Robert Dingli

Football, like other sports, has seen a drastic change in its development over the years. Today, one can safely say that football is dictated by the direction of money, with players and coaches seeking lucrative contracts and media companies forking out millions to secure exclusive rights to broadcast games.

To put things into perspective, Deloitte’s Football Money League 2016 report revealed that the 20 top Money League clubs, those that generated the most revenue in season 2014-15, had a combined total of €18.2 million per day.

The English clubs in the top 30 Money League generated a staggering €2 billion-plus of broadcast revenue.

With the 2017 edition to be published anytime now, such figures are surely bound to rise to further astronomical amounts.

However, not everything is rosy in the football world. One dark area that continues to tarnish the game’s glossy reputation is the recurring issue of match-fixing.

Match-fixing has continued to lurk in the background, claiming many victims along the way, including players, club officials and also referees.

The issue of match-fixing has become of such grave concern that the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) have both found themselves subject to corruption allegations, two institutions that should be at the forefront of preventing such actions in the first place.

The recent decision by Uefa’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body, where six Malta under-21 players were banned for match-fixing offences, two of them for life, has cast further doubts over Malta’s football integrity.

 Although the judgment sent shockwaves through Malta and beyond, one must bear in mind that sport governing bodies apply an element of ‘comfortable satisfaction’ when deciding cases and not a standard court of law’s ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

While, of course, one has to see if an appeal will be made to Uefa’s appeals body and possibly the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the fact remains that Maltese football has already been in the spotlight for similar match-fixing cases in the past, among them Kevin Sammut’s ten-year reduced ban from football.

The BBC described Malta as a “murky world of assassination attempts, criminal gangs and intimidating match-fixers” in a recent programme titled When dreams are snatched away, which focused on the situation of Maltese football.

Combating the issues that stem from match-fixing is not easy and certainly cannot eradicate corruption overnight

This was followed up by World Soccer, an influential magazine, which in this month’s edition focused on match-fixing in the Maltese league and the authorities’ plan to curb it.

On a positive note, the government is on the verge of implementing much needed legislation to combat match-fixing following the setting up of a task force to deal with the matter.

The new legislation is envisaging harsher punishments for those involved in sports and also those who, despite having no direct connection to a sporting organisation, still stand to benefit from corruption.

Such news is refreshing, especially given the fact that existing legislation dates back to the 1970s, when match-fixing was nearly non-existent.

On the European front, the Council of Europe is trying to go ahead with plans to implement a convention on the manipulation of sports competitions.

One of the stumbling blocks towards having this convention implemented has been Malta’s reservations on the proposed definition of “illegal sports betting”, which as it currently stands is deemed to threaten Malta’s booming gaming industry.

Legislation on its own, however, will not be able to combat match-fixing issues.

There is a need for a nationwide educational campaign whereby all those involved in sports are informed about the repercussions of failing to comply with the law.

Another key condition for legislation to be effective is ensuring that there are effective procedures in place for whistle-blowers to avail of when they come forward with information concerning match-fixing.

Germany has introduced an ombudsman for sport to deal with the prevention and reporting of bribery in sport.

While it is positive to note that the Malta Football Association employs an integrity officer, unfortunately the same cannot be said for some other sports associations here. Also, the fact remains that one person alone cannot be effective and efficient without having the necessary supporting environment.

Whatever the course of action may be, combating the issues that stem from match-fixing is not easy and certainly cannot eradicate corruption overnight.

However, by having the necessary laws and supporting personnel in place, the fight against match-fixing can be further strengthened, which at the end of the day will hopefully lead to fewer athletes and officials falling victim to such a perilous phenomenon.

Robert Dingli is a sports lawyer and Swieqi United FC vice-president.

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