‘Malta deadlock’ over illegal sports betting preventing EU ratification of convention

PACE urges EU to end ‘Malta deadlock’ which is undermining the fight against manipulation in sport

The MPs representing Council of Europe member states in the parliamentary assembly have urged the European Union to rapidly resolve what they said is an “institutional deadlock” imposed by Malta, over the definition of ‘illegal sports betting’.

The PACE said Malta is preventing the EU and its member states from ratifying a Council of Europe convention aimed at tackling the manipulation of sport.

Unanimously approving a resolution today based on a report by Roland Rino Büchel (Switzerland, ALDE), the Assembly’s Standing Committee said it found “no justification” for Malta’s position.

Malta is contesting a definition in the Convention which the MPs said affects its gambling revenues, and urged it to stop seeking new avenues to amend the definition, a move which would “paralyse” the Convention.

Malta claims that the definition of “illegal sports betting” goes beyond the scope of the Macolin Convention and does not contribute to the fight against match-fixing. At the EU level, it also argues that, betting services should benefit from free movement under the Internal Market rules, whereby a service licensed in one member State should be accepted in all others.

Only seven Council of Europe member States have ratified the Convention since it was agreed five years ago – which is just enough for it to enter into force – while some 19 states who have signed it, indicating their willingness to adopt it in principle.

But PACE said that the Malta stumbling block had delayed ratification after being “entangled” in the EU decision-making process.

“Sports integrity must be far higher on member States’ political agendas, who should urgently ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions and end the years-long deadlock imposed by Malta over the definition of ‘illegal sports betting’ within the Convention,” Buchel said.

“The requirement for consensus within the European Union has hampered the implementation of the Convention and prevents its Follow-up Committee from going ahead with a maximum number of States Parties. The EU institutions should find a rapid solution to this problem, while the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should revisit its agreement with the European Union to ensure that a single member State can no longer prevent others from joining a Council of Europe treaty.”

The ratification process has been seriously hampered by Malta’s veto on the European Union’s ratification because of a contested definition in the Convention, which hits on its national interest in gambling revenues.

The Convention lays down provisions to outlaw and sanction illegal betting activity in sport, ensure that law enforcement can work trans-nationally to combat it, keep sensitive data out of the hands of criminals, and promote awareness of ethics and integrity among athletes, coaches and sports associations. It creates a collaborative partnership between governments or their national sport platforms, sports governing bodies, national lotteries, sports betting operators and other relevant stakeholders.

Integrity in sport is “generally low” on the political agenda, PACE pointed out, urging states to take more robust action against money-laundering and illegal betting associated with sport – especially in light of the drastic impact of COVID-19, which has boosted illegal activity in sport.

“The time to act is now,” the parliamentarians urged, pointing out that further delay would only benefit criminal networks and undermine sport.

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