The European football governing body Uefa had to threaten Cyprus clubs with exclusion from European competitions for the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) to take the decision to impose tougher penalties for suspected match-fixing. The penalties that the CFA introduced last year had proved ineffective – they were randomly imposed – as six notifications had already been sent by Uefa regarding suspicious betting activity in local matches this season.
Not trusting the CFA, the European governing body has proposed its own tougher punitive measures threatening to kick Cyprus clubs out of its competitions if these were not imposed. Meanwhile, on Sunday, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou announced the government was preparing a bill that would provide for tougher penalties, including imprisonment and fines of up to €300,000 for match-fixing and bribery in sport. The bill also envisages the lifting of the confidentiality of private communications as UEFA experts told the government that phone-tapping had eradicated match-fixing in other countries.
The CFA held an informal AGM on Monday to discuss the tough UEFA measures and its top officials were quick to wash their hands of the match-fixing allegations. Its chairman, Costakis Koutsokoumnis, announced that “the party is over for the betting mafia,” but also said the association could not be blamed for match-fixing. “Who does it, is it not the clubs?” he asked. Of course it was the clubs but for too many years Koutsokoumnis and the CFA turned a blind eye to what was going despite the red notices coming in from UEFA. The policy was to ignore the problem for as long they could.
If the CFA wanted to combat match-fixing there was a very easy way to do it. Once a red notice was received for suspicious betting on a match, it could have investigated the finances of the teams involved and demand documentation for their revenue. Has nobody at the CFA ever wondered how a small village club that is watched by 50 people could afford to pay the hefty wages of foreign players? It may receive money from the Cyprus Sports Federation and from TV rights but does this make it viable? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that small clubs use match-fixing in order to make ends meet and that footballers do as they are told so they could get paid at the end of the month?
It is club finances that need to be investigated if the CFA sincerely wants to eradicate match-fixing and we are surprised that Uefa has not made such a suggestion. How are clubs with paltry revenue from match tickets paying their big wage bills every month? Koutsokoumnis openly said that the clubs were fixing matches but what is his excuse for doing nothing to stop them?