Editorial | The fight against sport corruption must up its game

It is in the industry’s and society’s interest that sport corruption is fought in the most earnest of ways


Nationalist MP David Agius created furore in parliament on Tuesday when he claimed the Maltese top-flight football league is fixed and the winner is known.

He did not mention names or substantiate the claims but was simply repeating the words often heard in football circles and among fans.

Agius enjoys parliamentary privilege and yet, even if he knew more than he let out, still chose to keep the details to himself.

The Malta Football Association was correct to say that anyone with information or knowledge of corruption has the duty to report the matter to the relevant authorities.

The most significant way that match-fixing can be eradicated or fought in earnest is if people with information come forward.

The complex manner by which sport corruption takes place makes it virtually impossible to spot. The onset of online betting sites created a legitimate third-party vehicle over which large sums of money can be played on every imaginable combination of outcomes, by people who have no direct interest in the clubs playing on the pitch.

It can take the agreement of just one player to manipulate aspects of the game that do not necessarily alter the outcome, or make it look ridiculous. Indeed, in many instances, the outcome of the game may still be plausible, making it all the more difficult to spot corruption.

There are technological means to monitor how bets are being played, which can then raise red flags on some games. But even these means on their own do not provide the necessary proof to nail the culprits and bring down criminal rings.

Investigations to bring down these rings would require much more cross-border intelligence gathering operations and possibly infiltrations.

Malta’s National Risk Assessment 2023 published by the Malta Gaming Authority, which covers money laundering, terrorist and proliferation financing and targeted financial sanctions, outlines the money laundering risk that several online gaming products present.

The reference was to products which are fully dependent on the outcome of an underlying event.

The manipulation of such events may give rise to potential money laundering opportunities, the report says, particularly where the customer is aware of the outcome of an event prior to such event taking place.

The most obvious means of manipulating events is through match fixing in sporting events. The assessment says that while the sporting event is generally outside of the control of the gaming operators, knowledge of the outcome may lead to customers betting on a particular event and being guaranteed a winning return on such bet.

But the risks are not only limited to physical sporting activities. The yearly assessment suggests that fantasy sports, an emerging product, may also be exposed to the vulnerability of players transferring funds to one another to maximise on winnings by determining the outcome.

Getting to the bottom of such a complex network is not easy and requires technical expertise, significant resources and cross-border cooperation.

Corruption in sports, like anywhere else, distorts the playing field, creates an unfair situation for unsuspecting players, undermines the positive values associated with sports and erodes morality.

Bona fide gaming companies should do more to stamp out abuse through proper due diligence of players and adequate monitoring systems to spot dubious wagers.

The executive must also provide the forces of law and order the right tools to up their game, while potential whistle-blowers should be protected in a way that allows them to testify and provide information that can be translated into proof. The authorities must also be more vigilant on football clubs and other sport organisations that can be used by certain individuals to launder money obtained from illicit activities.

It is in the industry’s and society’s interest that sport corruption is fought in the most earnest of ways.

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