Enforcement of a law aimed at fighting match-fixing should be restricted to team sports, where Cyprus experienced the biggest problem, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told MPs on Wednesday, warning that extending it to other sports would defeat its purpose.
“That is why we insisted in the committee, because the biggest problem we face at the moment is manipulation of events in team sports … our view is to focus on the cases regulated by (a relevant) treaty (of the Council of Europe) and not extend beyond it,” the minister said.
Match fixing has become a scourge in Cyprus, affecting the top flight and the second division.
Footballing authorities have received scores of notifications about suspicious betting, which suggests match-fixing, but no one has been brought to book to date, apart from several €50,000-fines imposed on teams.
The bill provides for the establishment of a five-member ethics committee and strict penalties for offenders.
Going beyond team sports would create problems in the function of the committee and possibly defeat the purpose of the bill.
The minister said the effort would be to gather all the information necessary for the most efficient investigation of match fixing incidents, to tackle what has been plaguing team sports championships.
“It is not possible to have the files from Uefa and not being able to investigate some of them because of the inexistence of sufficient legal weapons,” the minister said. “This committee will assist the effort to tackle match-fixing cases, whether they are linked to suspicious betting activity or other events that benefit certain people. Money is not necessarily the only benefit.”
The bill affords courts the authority to seize any profits collected by the offender and creates a bribery offence concerning officials and athletes.
Those found guilty face up to seven years in jail and or a €200,000 fine.
It will ban betting by athletes, club officials, referees, and members of the football association. Club officials would be banned from representing athletes.
The bill also includes provisions for protecting athletes who blow the whistle and banning termination of their contract.
To help in the fight, the justice minister had asked for the input of betting companies.
Paddy Power Betfair (PPB) said it should be mandatory for all operators to have robust systems to detect suspicious betting and share information on suspicious betting activity with the betting authority.
The company said the committee should act as a national platform bringing together all key stakeholders involved in the fight against match fixing in sport to boost cooperation and knowledge-sharing, and to provide a focal point for tackling the problem head-on.
“This should include sports organisations, the NBA and the police, as well as other relevant stakeholders.”
It proposed setting up a central whistleblowing line where people could report suspicious activity and, as is the case in a number of other EU countries, establish a technical unit to collate, analyse, investigate, and disseminate information on suspicious betting patterns collected from betting operators and sporting organisations.