he Malta Football Association’s general secretary Bjorn Vassallo yesterday confirmed the MFA is to meet next month to discuss the proposed measures.
The Bill is being drafted by a sub-committee of the task force, which consists of representatives from the government and Opposition, the police, the MFA, Malta Gaming Authority and Sport Malta.
“Rather than papering over the cracks of the existing law, which goes back to 1976, the task force opted for a radical overhaul through a Bill which we hope will be presented to Parliament by the end of the year,” Mr Vassallo said.
He said the Bill will include tougher sanctions and address a number of grey areas such as jurisdiction issues, in matches involving teams from different countries, which in the past have hindered prosecutors.
The task force was set up following the shocking revelations made in January last year by the association’s integrity officer Franz Tabone, whose role is to pass on any evidence of match-fixing and promote the sport’s values
He claimed in a newsletter that Maltese football was “infested by people who grade the game’s sporting spirit at the lowest grade, if any”.
“Some clubs finance their entire operation by manipulating matches, betting on them and the winnings going towards the club whilst also lining their own pockets,” he said.
Asked yesterday if he was satisfied with the response his statements had sparked, Mr Tabone questioned the need for a task force to revamp legislation, although he did welcome the proposed measures. “Personally, all I want is greater support from the police who must step up their efforts whenever we flag suspicious behaviour,” the MFA integrity officer told this newspaper.
“We are dealing with criminality, but the basic principle is still the same. You go to a player, and he will do the job for you.”
He added that the close proximity of Maltese clubs made it easier to flag abuse.
“Education is the main weapon at our disposal and we are focusing our resources on inculcating the right values among upcoming generations,” he said.
The anti-corruption task force will debate the proposed measures in its upcoming meeting
The Bill is designed to replace a three-page law called the Prevention of Corruption (Players) Act, which was enacted decades before the advent of online betting.
While not divulging specific details, Mr Vassallo said that apart from proposing harsher penalties, the sub-committee’s report dealt with issues like aggravated circumstances, lack of reporting of illicit activities, betting at sports venues, jurisdiction and evidence, as well as the creation of a specialised body focusing exclusively on sport corruption.
“Some of the measures address grey areas which we had encountered during the match-fixing investigation of the Euro 2008 qualifier between Norway and Malta,” Mr Vassallo said.
According to the Handbook on the Economics of Sport, a comprehensive study from a financial perspective, the global sport economy accounts for nearly two per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.
In 2013 this amounted to €800 billion, a quarter of which was generated from regulated online markets comprising all companies registered with national gaming authorities. In most cases, match-fixing has more to do with the unregulated markets.
“Operated by Russian, Eastern European and Asian betting syndicates, unregulated markets offer much higher returns as there are no tax, licence fees or registration costs involved, and consequently such entities have strong links with criminal organisations,” Mr Vassallo said.
During the 2015/16 season, a total of 15 games were flagged to the Malta Football Association for suspicious betting activity by Swiss company Sportradar
According to the MFA administrative report, these involved 14 games from the Premier Division and a match from the second-tier, the First Division.
The report points out that this number compares with the previous two seasons and describes the percentage rate as low.
Asked what kind of follow-up had been done by the MFA, integrity officer Franz Tabone noted that such warnings needed to be taken with great caution.
“Unless there is a repeated pattern involving the same club, there are normally no grounds to sound the alarm bells,” he said.
The MFA official added that out of the 15 games, they only felt the need to approach one particular club whose name cropped up more than once.
“After approaching the club’s president, we were told that action had already been taken and the issue seems to have been settled,” Mr Tabone said.
In an unprecedented move, Europe’s governing body, UEFA, last June suspended Albanian league champions KF Skenderbeu for a season, on the strength of repeated suspicious betting patterns. Though the club filed an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the suspension was upheld.