[WATCH] Match-fixing in football ‘just like a stock exchange’ says former Malta coach Pippo Psaila

Football administrators and politicians agree that lucrative online betting has changed the nature of corruption in sport

Match-fixing is more serious today than it ever was in the past, former Malta national football team coach Pippo Psaila said this evening.

“Today there is an exchange similar to a stock exchange,” he said on Xtra on TVM, adding that this was where the real danger came from.

When asked how one can be more vigilant about match-fixing due to the fact that the underground betting industry has become more sophisticated, Psaila replied with the popular catchphrase “follow the money”, saying that organised crime has a direct link with money.

A report from the International Centre for Sport Security on betting showed that 85% of bets were not regulated, with their value at $2 trillion annually.

Former Malta national football coach Pippo Psaila and MFA secretary-general Angelo Chetcuti
Former Malta national football coach Pippo Psaila and MFA secretary-general Angelo Chetcuti

“Now the issue is that criminals are finding ways of channelling a lot of money where it is not controlled,” Psaila said.

Malta Football Association secretary-general Angelo Chetcuti added that the advent of betting had been a significant force. “By this, I don’t necessarily mean online betting and regularised betting as we know it,” he said, referring to illegal betting.

“The nature of these betting activities are inherently different since, while before bets used to be placed on the end result of the game, nowadays bets are being placed on specific actions, such as the total amount of goals, and whether and at which point yellow cards are given. These bets are very minute, and this makes the player very vulnerable.

“Even though the buck stops with the player, it is very easy for a player to be directed to perform lesser infractions that would not set the term in the outcome of the match but would still constitute match-fixing.”

Parliamentary secretary for sports Clifton Grima, who has piloted harsher penalties in a new sports corruption law, said that despite the deterrent,  the authorities had to work hand in hand with the MFA.

“Most of the time, the problem is that when there is a new law, there is a lack of knowledge about it. We need to work at getting the information out there, going to schools, and teaching young people of their responsibilities and obligations.

“A player or administrator is obliged by law to report any wrongdoing… Although the MFA regularly holds lecturers for its players, I think this should be extended to other types of sport and disciplines.”

To this, Angelo Chetcuti said the MFA was focusing its efforts on educating players on the laws in question. “The law on its own is not going to catch the criminals,” he said, describing the nature of the crime as one which depends on information passing from one place to another without leaving any evidence. “It depends entirely on the people who report it.”

Chetcuti said the money was not always traceable, and that criminals are often one step ahead. “Abroad match-fixing is comparable to drug trafficking,” Chetcuti said. “There has been a process in which the police and other authorities had to become conscious of the extent of the problem.”

Psaila said that while the authorities need to be strict in terms of penalties against those caught involved in match-fixing, the punishment needs to be on the same level as the crime. “Integrity in the game is something that must be expected, or spectators will no longer be interested in attending football games they know are fixed.”

Although corruption in sports and match-fixing has long been an issue, it is only now that the problem has been globalised, Psaila added. “I am a realist… football will not move forward if its issues are not addressed holistically.” 

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