Scandal and corruption related to match fixing has been around for decades. Beneath the glossy image of promoted sports there are dodgy agents and players or officials who are willing to corrupt games. “It is always a pity when you witness stories of match fixing,” says sports journalist and former FIFA referee Christopher Francalanza speaking with SiGMA News. “It is like a cancer, and in my opinion, any athlete or sports administrator who manipulates the outcome of a sporting event should be penalised with the maximum sentence.”
Ignorance of the law does not make you innocent, so Boukholda should have also been given a life ban.
International Tennis Integrity Agency bans two tennis players
This month the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) banned two Algerian tennis players from the sport as a result of being found guilty of a number of match fixing activities since 2016. Mohamed Hassan has been banned from playing for life and fined US $12,100 for 29 offences during seven matches. Huria Boukholda was fined US $10,000 and banned for 18 months for 15 match fixing offences relating to five matches.
A spokesperson for ITIA said “Due to Boukholda’s age and inexperience at the time of the offences, it was determined that the player was influenced by Hassan and was therefore given a more lenient sanction.” Additionally it was noted that evidence of the offences came to light as part of ongoing law enforcement investigations in Belgium.
Francalanza notes that Hassan was ranked 1476th in the world as opposed to Boukholda who is still relatively young and unknown. He sums up that match-fixing is more common amongst “young athletes and administrators who are not paid as handsomely as champions such as for example Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and others.” He observes that match-fixing in other sports usually occurs in lower leagues.
“These athletes are sometimes approached to fix games to games to make a quick buck because they are being blackmailed or experiencing some vulnerability”, he says. They may see it as an opportunity to wealth for themselves especially if they are poorly paid.
Ignorance does not make you innocent
Effectively, behind the problem of match-fixing there are usually influential criminal organisations and masterminds. Francalanza expects that any person who directly tries to manipulate a game and is found guilty of match-fixing should not be allowed to participate in any sporting event. He believes that “Ignorance of the law does not make you innocent, so Boukholda should have also been given a life ban. Albeit only the courts can provide a just ruling after hearing all the testimonies and the circumstances.”
The global problem of match fixing
It is almost impossible for match fixing to have a lone operator. One of the favoured methods is for syndicates to set up home matches so that referees who agree to fix results can be appointed. There have been cases where a whole tournament is tailored for the betting market. It is a door that is wide open for those who are determined to abuse the system. Middlemen then make money on sales and tv rights.
Francalanza describes some of his experiences when football matches were fixed. “In 2013 four National team players in Malta were handed life bans for match-fixing, and only recently, in January 2018, another scandal hit the Maltese national team. It was six under-21 players who were found guilty of match-fixing.” He recalls an incident in 2013 when a whistleblower came forward to reveal match fixing in one of the premier league teams.
More recently in 2021/22, Attard Football Club started the season with a tally of -9 points after one of their committee members admitted to trying to fix a match.
Survey by the University of Nicosia
The threat of match-fixing is very real. A report called ‘Combating Match Fixing in Club Football’ recently conducted and published by the University of Nicosia in Cyprus found that a staggering 93 out of 114 Maltese league footballers responded they suspected that an official match they played in was fixed.
Integrity in sports
Christopher Francalanza considers himself lucky as he has never encountered any match fixing during his twenty-one years experience in football. He concludes “if you do not want to be approached to manipulate matches, you must always be a person of integrity and keep your boundaries whether you are on or off the field of play. If you observe any potential conflicts of interest it is imperative to report any wrongdoing immediately.”
One however wonders if any team is immune to fixers.
Christopher Lawrence Francalanza spoke with SiGMA News. He is a former FIFA and elite football assistant referee. He retired from active refereeing at the age of 37 after 21 years. During his career Francalanza officiated in more than 250 matches at premier level in Malta and participated in 44 international high profile games abroad. He lectures journalism at MCAST and collaborates with renowned journalists on an international level taking a watchdog approach on the institutions that govern sports.