CYPRUS football suffered another embarrassment this week when the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) decided to suspend the second division championship because of fears of rampant match-fixing. It had received repeated notifications from European football’s governing body UEFA of suspicious betting activity regarding second division matches.
For the CFA to take such drastic action, we can only speculate that the evidence suggesting of match-fixing was mounting and it could no longer be seen to do nothing by UEFA which has been flagging suspicious betting activity in Cyprus matches for some time now. The police were handed notifications for four fixtures involving second division sides for investigations. Many such notifications were given to police in the past, also involving first division sides, but investigations led nowhere.
The decision to suspend the league was taken after a match was abandoned because of floodlight failure. After the match the coach of the home side that was leading 1-0 when the lights went out was sacked and after him the club chairman resigned for health reasons. The CFA ordered the match be resumed so that the remaining 33 minutes would be played, but Olympiacos, the away side that claimed it should have been awarded the game, filed an appeal. Match-fixing rumours were rife after this and the league was suspended.
What will happen now? Will the CFA impose in the second division the measures it put in place in the first division and which reportedly led to no more notifications for suspicious betting activity arriving from UEFA? Why had it not done so as a matter of routine for all divisions? Surely if first division clubs could engage in match-fixing so could those from the second division which were as desperate for funds.
The lack of funds is the root cause of the problem. Most clubs are living well beyond their means because there are not enough crowds to sustain them. There are first division matches watched by 100 or 200 hundred people. How can such gate receipts cover players’ wages and all other expenses? Revenue from betting on fixed matches appears to be one way of generating the cash needed for a football club to stay afloat. After leaving Cyprus, a foreign player revealed that players had been asked to throw matches so they could get paid.
If the football authorities really wanted to crack down on illegal activities they would only have to look at a club’s accounts and establish where the revenue came from. But this is unlikely to happen, with the CFA, which is made up of people put there by the clubs, content to do the bare minimum required to give the impression that it is dealing with the problem and thus appease UEFA.