Maltese National Coach Tom Saintfelt told a BBC reporter that the low salaries paid to Maltese footballers could be making match fixing more “attractive” to them.
A BBC documentary called “When Dreams Are Snatched Away” looks at various football leagues around the world and some of the major issues they deal with.
Malta’s football league is suffering from accusations of corruption and match fixing, and the BBC sent a sports reporter to the island to investigate further by speaking to key people.
Malta is introduced as a “murky world of assassination attempts, criminal gangs and intimidating match fixers,” and the data supports this assessment.
A 2016 report by FIFPRO, the worldwide football players union, found that one in six Maltese footballers will be approached for match fixing in their carer.
It also found “the Maltese Football League to be one of the most corruptible in the world.”
This was not a problem specifically endemic to Malta, but Malta was found to be especially susceptible to having corrupted football players.
The documentary said that the government was looking into harsher penalties for people found to be match fixing as well as increased protection for whistle blowers, but wondered if this was coming too late.
“Match fixing is the new criminality around us”
MP David Agius
In the documentary, Opposition Whip and member of Parliament David Agius was interviewed about growing up as the son of a former football referee. He talks of match fixing as “the new criminality around us,” and recounts how his father would not be coerced into fixing a match.
But not cooperating with these criminals had a price: he was just a child when someone had set a bomb near their house because of his father’s steadfastness and refusal to be corrupted.
He also tells of the experience of foreign players who come to Malta to play in the league, and quickly find out how dire the situation is. He spoke of a particular player who was “offered a bag of money” and told that his next game “needs to finish 4-1”.
This level of intimidation was not uncommon according to Agius, and when the reporter asks what happened to this footballer, Agius says that they “had to leave the game completely” and are now retired, unable to play football for fear of reprisals.
Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sports and Voluntary Organisations Clifton Grima would agree with the Opposition member. He tells the reporter about his very first day on the job.
Corruption can never be excused
Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima
“Within my first day I was approached by a player who said he was approached by another player, and I took this guy to the police and there were then criminal proceedings against him. It was a baptism of fire,” says Grima.
While pointing out that he is proud that he had to opportunity to personally be involved in a case of match fixing and put an end to it, he says to “be realistic, the bad guys make the headlines. Corruption can never be excused.”
Malta’s national coach Tom Saintfelt – whose home debut was less than spectacular – spoke through his experience as an international coach, having worked with everyone from Jordan to Trinidad & Tobago.
Saintfelt, a Belgian, explained that the conditions that players need to work with is what leads to match fixing.
The problem is some players will have very limited salaries and will be attracted to match fixing
Malta National Coach Tom Saintfelt
“The problem is that the clubs don’t want to be fully professional at this time,” he said, implying that the low salaries paid to the players can lead to match fixing.
“The problem is some players will have very limited salaries and will then be attracted to match fixing,” he said
He said this “isn’t only a Maltese problem”, saying that this also happens in places like Belgium and Finland.
He thinks that some things the authorities could do to curb match fixing is offer higher salaries for players and through strict rules.
“I think raising the salaries could help, but still, people can be influenced by money,” he said.
The Malta Football Association responded to this criticism by telling the Malta Independent that these kinds of reports could damage Maltese football and lead to negative stereotypes.
The MFA however said that “we can’t bury our heads in the sand” and that the new harsher legislation “was driven by the MFA itself”.