THE chairman of the sports organisation (KOA) urged parliament to approve legislation to fight match-fixing, including provisions for phone surveillance, a controversial issue that has been lingering for years despite the advantage it could provide crimefighters.
KOA chairman Kleanthis Georgiades said if Cyprus wanted to fix the problem it should afford authorities with the proper tools.
“Match-fixing is something everyone suspects, everyone talks about, but no one can prove,” he told state broadcaster CyBC.
His comments came a day after the football association (CFA) held an informal general meeting to discuss the matter, under pressure from European governing body Uefa to put draconian measures in place.
“The CFA has no choice, they will kick Cyprus out of European competitions,” Georgiades said.
In the past several years, Cyprus has gained itself the dubious distinction of having one of the dirtiest, if not the dirtiest, football leagues in Europe, thanks mostly to the continuous inflow of suspicious betting notifications that have almost become a weekly phenomenon.
However, nothing effective has been done to battle the phenomenon, and police claim it is hard to prove allegations that keep emerging.
Georgiades said he hoped the minister’s legislation would prove an effective deterrent, but he warned that it should not be changed.
“I urge everyone not to try and render the justice minister’s recommendation toothless,” he said. One crucial tool would be phone surveillance, a can that has been repeatedly kicked down the road as MPs cite privacy issues.
Georgiades said he expected a huge debate, suggesting that protection of individual rights was overzealous.
“If to arrest an offender we must violate their rights to protect the rights of the rest of society, I think public interest supersedes private interest.”
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said the bill his ministry was preparing to combat match-fixing would be put before the parliament at the start of next year, as a matter of priority.
He said Uefa experts, during their recent meeting with Cyprus police and the CFA, pointed out that there were countries where match-fixing had been eradicated after phone tapping measures were taken.
In combination with steps to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement, the bill will include severe penalties of up to seven years imprisonment and fines of up to €300,000.
“At the end of the day, some people must go to jail so that peaceful people can enjoy what they deserve,” Georgiades said.
Suspicion and prejudice have often led to violence, driving fans away from football.
The CFA has so far received six notifications – one concerning a cup fixture.
Last season, Cyprus received 21 notifications concerning suspicious games. In total, the CFA has received over 60 notifications in recent years.
Late in December 2014, international referee Marios Panayi went public with allegations that match-fixing was rife in Cypriot football.
European match-fixing watchdog Federbet general secretary Francesco Baranca said at the time that they had been keeping an eye on Cyprus for some time.
Panayi claimed that he had in his possession recorded conversations, documents and other evidence, exposing people within the CFA as the ones “running the show” when it comes to local football.
He handed the evidence over to the authorities, but nothing has happened, ostensibly because it cannot be used in court.
The referee claimed that the CFA appoints referees who are willing to shape the game’s outcome and that they are the ones who decide which teams were relegated.
Panayi named CFA’s deputy chairman Giorgos Koumas as the man pulling the strings, that he is the one who decides on referee appointments and that he has close ties to football clubs and political parties.
Uefa vice president Marios Lefkaritis, who attended Monday’s meeting described how he felt as a Cypriot when he was briefed about the state of the island’s football by his colleagues last week.
“I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me,” he said. Lefkaritis said the information provided by Uefa was accurate and Cyprus has to put effective measures in place to dispel suspicions about its football.