The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

BBC features ‘murky world of criminal gangs and intimidating match fixers’ in Malta

Gabriel Schembri Monday, 13 November 2017, 09:04 Last update: about 6 years ago

Corruption and Malta have been sitting in the same sentence for far too long, both in local and international media. It appears that corruption, however, is crippling the institutions at every level and once again, our country is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. This time, it’s not about the Panama Papers or the ‘failure of the institutions’ and our rule of law, but it’s about a very popular, if not the most popular sport on the island – football.

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‘A murky world of assassination attempts, criminal gangs and intimidating match fixers, welcome to Malta’. This is how a BBC sport programme presenter started off his feature about our island. A sports journalist flew to Malta to find out more about the shady business that is everyone’s favourite sport.

The programme, which was aired recently both on the BBC radio and online looks into the corruption in football and decided to take a closer look at our local football league. The section about Malta starts by quoting a recent study which found out that one in every six footballers in Malta is approached for match fixing.

“Football in Malta is one of the most corruptible in the world,” the journalist explains in this small but troubling feature.

BBC spoke with Nationalist Party whip David Agius who is also the son of a former football referee. “I recall very clearly when someone set a bomb near our house because of football,” he told the journalist in a short interview.

Agius made reference to particular cases when footballers of the national team had to leave the game completely because of serious intimidation. “I know of players who were offered a lot of money and when they refused, they had to leave the game completely. You don’t fool around with these people. They are very dangerous. It’s a new form of criminality around us.”

Many would not agree with the latter part of this statement. Football match fixing in Malta has been present for many, many years. Recent court cases involving young players who were tangled in this web of corruption, some believe, is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Malta seems an unlikely place for assassination attempts and match fixing. The government is now preparing a bill to tackle this issue” the journalist says in the featurette. He then speaks to the Parliamentary Secretary for Sports Clifton Grima.

Grima said that on his very first day as secretary of Sliema Wanderers, he spoke to a player who was approached for match fixing. “I took him to the police immediately. I did it so that I can fight corruption with a straight face.”

BBC also spoke to the new Malta national team coach Tom Saintfiet, who said that the problem is that some clubs have very limited salaries. “It’s not a Maltese problem. Raising salaries could help but we need very strict rules.”

The Malta Independent reached a spokesperson for MFA who said that such stories reinforce negative perceptions on our football, leaving a stain without offering much in concrete terms.

“Needless to say that we can't bury our heads in the sand - our role is to educate and act whenever we have anything to act upon. And that's what we do. The legislation mentioned was driven by the MFA itself, and we are still pushing towards its enactment, together with government, Opposition, and all stakeholders.”

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