A new Bill tackling corruption in sports will do little to “eradicate the culture of omertà, FIFA director for European Member Associations Bjorn Vassallo said yesterday.
Mr Vassallo, who chaired an Anti-Corruption Task Force set up to draft the Bill, lamented that key “groundbreaking” proposals had been omitted from the Bill. He was speaking at a conference on sports corruption organised by the Nationalist Party.
One of the proposals recommended that witnesses remain anonymous, but this was shot down after it was insisted that witnesses in all types of criminal cases would as a result need to be anonymous.
The Malta Football Association had called for “much stronger proposals” but these were cast aside, Mr Vassallo lamented. Besides insisting on anonymous witnesses, the MFA had also demanded interdiction in cases of corruption in sports.
The law in its current form was “good”, Mr Vassallo said, however he pointed out that there needed to be a stronger willingness by the police to enforce current laws.
“The scenario has changed, and a platform for stakeholders to share knowledge is needed,” Mr Vassallo insisted.
He also called for the creation of a sports integrity unit within the police force, saying that the current economic crimes unit had too much on its plate to prioritise cases of sports corruption. “We are hearing about cases of money laundering every day,” he pointed out, adding that a sports protection unit would be able to focus exclusively on money laundering in sports.
There was a declaration of intent spearheaded by the MFA and other stakeholders, including the main political parties, who agreed on three main pillars against corruption, Mr Vassallo added.
The three main pillars were education, enforcement and the necessary amendments to the law.
He also noted the “romantic notion” of football had died out and said the sport was now a fully fledged business which needed to be regulated.
The economic crimes unit has too much on its plate to prioritise sports corruption
“Things changed drastically, and scandals in football are now commonplace,” Mr Vassallo noted. Raising the alarm on money laundering in sports, he noted that the International Monetary Fund estimated that up to five per cent of global GDP was laundered money.
“This is why governance in clubs or associations nowadays plays a pivotal role,” he said, adding that players who do not get paid on time are more susceptible to the threat of corruption in sports.
At the event, Nationalist MP Ryan Callus, the PN spokesman for sport, said sports corruption was a cross-border challenge. He insisted that Malta should join a Europol project seeking to help Member States work together against sports corruption.
Noting that players struggle to blow the whistle on corruption, he said that athletes need greater awareness of the law.
“Ignorance of the law is the worst thing,” he said. Closing the event, Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia pledged to continue the fight against corruption.
Recalling his time as president of the Birkirkara football club, Dr Delia said he aimed to guarantee that the sport would become clean for his children.
He also lamented that whistleblowers in football are seen as backstabbers rather than heroes.
The Opposition leader insisted that his party would be a “shield for those who revealed corruption in sport.”
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