MATCH-FIXING in Cyprus football has existed long before betting shops and web-sites abroad started taking bets on Cyprus league matches. It was considered part of the game, with clubs helping each other out when points were needed, either to avoid relegation or to secure the title – a small club that was done a favour would return the favour the following season and so on. Title challengers, meanwhile, would not be disinclined to make some payment to ensure they took the three points in tricky matches.
Once people were able to bet on Cyprus matches and make money, the old-style match-fixing lost its provincial innocence. Now, there is a big suspicion that small clubs can only survive financially through betting revenue. How else could clubs with home crowds of 100 people pay the monthly wages of coaches and players, not to mention the other operating expenses? There is TV money and financial support from the state via the Cyprus Sports Federation (Koa) but it is still not enough, and the situation has become worse now that Cyta no longer pours money into football sponsorships.
The government, under pressure from the European football governing body Uefa, has drafted legislation that would supposedly combat match-fixing and tabled it in the House in the hope that it would be approved before the start of the new football season. The bill envisages prison sentences of up to seven years and/or fines of up to €200,000; it will also allow the setting up of a committee to carry out investigations and pass on the information to the attorney-general. Akel deputy George Georgiou, who claimed the stench of fixed matches was threatening to suffocate football, said the bill was full of gaps and vague points.
This would be no surprise as it is no secret the government prepared the bill in order to avoid Uefa taking more drastic measures against Cyprus football clubs. Governments had ignored the problem for many years as nobody in Cyprus complained about it, but after the continual notifications for “suspicious betting activity” sent by Uefa action had to be taken. A few €50,000 fines were imposed on clubs, under the existing regulations but the new law, in theory, will give the authorities more powers to tackle football corruption.
Whether these new powers will be put into practice and zealously exercised remains to be seen, because eliminating match fixing would starve the small, under-resourced clubs of funds. We doubt there would be any betting shops in the world willing to take bets on match-fixing being eliminated after the passing of the law.