Upping the game: new sports authority promises to fight corruption, doping

A budget commitment to invest €500,000 in a new Sports Integrity Authority is set to herald a new era for sports in Malta

1994, USA World Cup: Maradona played in only two games before being sent home after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping
1994, USA World Cup: Maradona played in only two games before being sent home after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping

Corruption in sports is increasingly coming on the radar of law enforcement agencies in their fight against money laundering and financial crime.

A Europol report last summer identified football as a money laundering paradise for organised crime networks.

The EU agency warned that in its more sophisticated form, criminals took possession of clubs through generous sponsorships and eventual ownership.

It warned that practitioners involved in sports often addressed the issue only from a sports integrity perspective because they lacked awareness on the involvement of organised crime.

Within this context, Malta is set to up its game next year and the budget presented last Monday has committed €500,000 for the creation of a new Sports Integrity Authority.

Sports parliamentary secretary Clifton Grima told MaltaToday the authority will provide a national platform on match-fixing to strengthen the fight against corruption.

“The authority will not replace the work of the police but it will provide an important platform that brings stakeholders together to share information, raise awareness and engage in educational campaigns,” he said.

But the authority’s remit will be wider. It will be tasked with regulating sports organisations, which will help foster good governance, and also act as the country’s anti-doping agency.

Europol warned that organised crime groups often target lowly clubs, where the lure of easy money makes it easier to recruit willing participants.

Grima said proper regulation will enhance good governance and more importantly improve the standards of sporting entities.

A Bill setting up the authority is in draft stage and Grima expects to take it before parliament by the end of the year or the beginning of 2021.

The new authority will draw a distinction between the regulatory and operational aspects of sports, according to the Bill’s author, Chris Bonett.

A former vice president of the Malta Football Association, who also worked as integrity officer at UEFA, the European footballing authority, Bonett chairs the Sports Integrity Advisory Board set up last year by the secretariat.

“The new authority will effectively create a demarcation line between the regulatory and governance aspects of Maltese sport, which will now fall within the remit of the new body, and the provision of monetary assistance to national federations, sports services to the community and the operation of government sports facilities, which will remain in the remit of Sport Malta,” he said.

The authority will be responsible for the country’s anti-doping efforts, providing more in-competition and out-of-competition tests. This will bring Malta in line with the new World Anti-Doping Code that comes into force in January. Without this authority, Malta will fall foul of the new anti-drug rules.

It will also encompass a sports integrity unit to coordinate the fight against match-fixing through information sharing between domestic entities and foreign agencies.

The third function of the authority is to regulate sports organisations. Bonett said this was important at a time when increased commercialisation has pumped more money into sport. The need for structured and transparent organisations run on good governance principles has grown, he added.

The proposal draws on the experience of other countries by centralising efforts to ensure proper regulation and protect the integrity of sports competitions into one structure.

“This is similar to what happened in Finland and Australia where centralised authorities unify all the pillars of sports integrity and are given all the resources and support to carry out this vital mission,” Bonett said.

He hopes that the authority will be the first step that takes the country to the next level in sports. “It will enable us to start thinking big, including the possibility of having a ministry dedicated entirely to sport,” he said.