In better days: Malta’s under-21 football team exceeded expectations in their qualifying round for the 2017 UEFA European Championship
Malta’s football scene was stunned last week when two promising under-21 international players received UEFA lifetime bans for match-fixing, and another two suspended for a year for keeping their mouths shut.
While there has been widespread condemnation for the two players on the take (Kyle Cesare and Emanuel Briffa), opinion on the fate of the other four players has been more split.
The Malta Footballers’ Association has been clear on its stand – those four players have been harshly punished by UEFA, subjected not only to a lengthy football ban that jeopardises their careers but also to public opinion which has lumped them in the same category as the two players who took bribes.
The MFPA’s general secretary Carlo Mamo said it is unfair on young players to expect them to report dangerous criminals who operate match-fixing rings without any safeguards from the authorities.
“There was a case in Malta where a footballer reported a criminal for match-fixing, but now regrets his decision because of all the threats and intimidation that followed” he told Lovin Malta. “They fear for their own safety and that of their families.”
MFPA general secretary Carlo Mama
Indeed, he said one of the four Malta U-21 players found guilty of not reporting on time had explicitly asked whether he will be protected and by whom but was not given a response.
“It cannot be overstated enough, that players approached to fix matches are approached by a criminal network of dangerous individuals. Reporting to the authorities will subject them to the risk of retribution, intimidation, harassment or violence. Individuals who feel that the authorities will not afford them the needed protection will shy away from reporting for the sake of their and their family’s safety,” he said. “The MFPA has sought to support players in the past in similar circumstances and the reply was invariably that the Maltese football or State authorities have no system of preventive support or protection. Nor the police can and will offer protection.”
“Players cannot be expected to expose themselves and their safety, and that of their loved ones, without being afforded any protection. Adding insult to injury, they are then being severely punished for being victims of this inadequate system.”
Tarxien Rainbows goalkeeper Andrew Cassar
The MFPA’s warning is one that Tarxien Rainbows goalkeeper Andrea Cassar is all too familiar with. Cassar is renowned in Maltese football for having spilled the beans on two former teammates and two club officials after they had urged him to throw a game at his then club Hamrun Spartans four years ago.
Cassar told this portal he was never offered any protection whatsoever, except for a restraining order against a player who had harassed him in the street.
“I don’t think football corruption is being tackled properly by the police and the MFA,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense; how do you expect players to expose corruption if they don’t receive any protection especially in such a small country? I was 20 years old at the time, and I only exposed my former colleagues because I had my back against the wall. My only choices were to report them, to leave my club with two years to go on my contract and some €35,000 in parameter compensation at the time, to keep my mouth shut and probably never play another game for the club or to join the corrupt system.”
“Joining this system was not an option since I am not a criminal and sacrificing my football career was neither an option for the sacrifices that my family and I made along the way to reach where I was at the time, playing Premier League football with my hometown club.”
“I’m from Hamrun and have played with the club since I was six, so reporting my hometown club felt like reporting a member of my family. However, I’m not a criminal and what they were doing was unfair especially to the Hamrun supporters, the club itself and the general Maltese public who truly love the game.”
Malta’s first-choice goalkeeper Andrew Hogg
Yet Malta’s national keeper Andrew Hogg has taken a sterner approach, arguing that excuses should not be made for players who fail to report corruption.
“Yes, there is an element of fear, but if you do nothing then that makes you an accomplice,” he said. “Let’s not blow it out of proportion; betting is open to everyone these days and not all people involved in match-fixing are hardened criminals. In life, you make your bed and sleep in it. The problem is that many footballers aren’t aware of the anti-corruption hotlines that exist.”
Hogg told this portal he agrees with Malta captain Andre Schembri’s assessment that the problem of football match-fixing reflects how corruption has infiltrated Maltese society at all levels.
“We keep hearing about the ‘min hexa mexa’ attitude all the time and I believe this mentality has become so widespread that it has also trickled into football,” he said. “These things have been going on for years though, which is a shame because sports shouldn’t be this way.”