Brussels, 5 June 2018

 

- Check against delivery -

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I came to office in late 2014, one of my top priorities in the sport field was to ensure that the EU signs the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions.

Little could I imagine at the time that almost four years later, we would still be discussing this issue.

Of course, we knew from the negotiations on the Convention that this was a complicated and often sensitive area. Indeed, discussions about the content of the Convention took more than two years. 

These talks were exhaustive and sought to find a suitable compromise: a way forward that would enable signature countries to put in place the necessary components to help fight the scourge that is match fixing. The integrity of sport is under threat as never before, and we must find ways to protect it. This is the only way to preserve its place at the heart of our society.

The Maltese position on this Convention was not a surprise, but the implications perhaps were.

How can we overcome these barriers? In procedural terms, the Commission has done what it can.  We submitted the proposals for the EU signature to the Council over three years ago. Then, almost one year ago, we also submitted the proposal for the Conclusion of the Union's accession to the Convention.

This second stage has fortunately enabled the European Parliament to become formally involved. We very much welcome this due to the political nature of this issue. We now need to find a solution that we can all agree to.

Therefore, we welcome the initiative of MEP Mr Bogdan Wenta to hold this conference. And we hope that today's debate will provide fresh impetus to a discussion that has been stagnating now for some time. I urge all interested stakeholders to help us get to a breakthrough!

We want the Convention to come into force as soon as possible. Most importantly, we want for the EU as a whole to be fully on board with it. 

The Convention, if we were to ratify it, would be an invaluable instrument for the sporting world as well as a powerful confirmation that the EU does not tolerate match fixing. In fact, for those states that choose to ratify it, the Convention would be the first legally binding international tool to fight match-fixing.

However, given the mixed nature of the Convention, we still believe that we need a coordinated approach to the signature and ratification of the Convention by Member States, in accordance with the principle of sincere cooperation. We therefore have to find common ground and seek a new solution together.

Match fixing has a strong international dimension and knows no borders. Consequently, there is a clear need to ensure close cooperation between all Member States and also with countries beyond the EU.

Since the manipulation of sporting results is also often linked to betting, it is clear that the fight against match-fixing requires concerted efforts from public authorities, sports organisations and gambling operators.

Yet, let us not forget that a lot of progress has been made in the fight against match fixing. Education projects have helped to raise awareness, sophisticated monitoring systems are covering many sports, and more and more countries have legislation in place which criminalises match fixing.

And cooperation between the respective players – sports bodies, the gambling industry and the law enforcement sector – has improved a great deal.

Indeed, one of the key aspects of the Convention – the national platforms – is already well established in many EU and Council of Europe Member States.

The European Commission is also working hard to combat match fixing, as part of wider efforts to ensure that competitive sports are fair and that their reputations intact.

Commission services dealing with sport, betting, organised crime and corruption will continue to work closely in order to ensure a fair and equal playing field.

The Commission is playing a strong role here: through studies and projects addressing match fixing supported by Erasmus+, and by bringing parties together and sharing best practises through EU expert groups. One prominent example I would like to mention is the 2016 "PROtect Integrity" project co-funded by Erasmus+. This project aims to provide face-to face education courses designed by INTERPOL and carried out by athletes themselves. Almost 15,000 European elite level and youth athletes are involved, covering 11 countries and 10 different sports. The idea is that by preventing match fixing in elite sports, the education project will help to protect grassroots sport.

However, let me be clear: the Convention is, in my view, the absolute key element in the fight against match fixing. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must not underestimate the very real impetus that ratifying the Convention can give to the fight against match fixing. It is thus imperative that we unite and sign it as soon as possible. For that, we need to find an innovative solution. I sincerely hope that here today, we can all put some fresh thinking into solving the deadlock that has endured for far too long.

Let me once again sincerely thank MEP Mr Bogdan Wenta. Rest assured that I will work with him and the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and others, in whatever way possible in order to find a solution.

Match fixing is eroding people's trust in sport, depriving athletes of the chance to participate in honest competitions – and undermining the principle of fairness that is key not only to sport, but to our societies. We must act, and we must act fast.

Thank you.