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Football authorities in Malta are looking into a mobile-phone app developed by FIFPro to report match-fixing confidentially after four young players were banned for not notifying officials about a criminal gang’s approach.

One of the Under-21 national team players banned last week by UEFA had asked for assurances from authorities about his safety before deciding not to report the approach, according to the Malta Football Players Association (MFPA).

“I am not comfortable telling players to report match-fixing,” Carlo Mamo, general secretary of MFPA, said. “We live on a small island where everyone knows everyone and you have to think about their safety. We don’t have a proper system in place to protect players.”

The players association plans to discuss the viability of the Red Button app with the Maltese football federation. Red Button was developed by FIFPro in conjunction with Finland’s government. It is also in use in New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

The app was made by a company which makes high-security software for banks and only gives access to players who have obtained a personal pin code through their player union. The system has been approved by Interpol, the international police organization.

The anonymous report is seen only by a trusted person such as an ombudsman or police officer. To be effective, it is critical national authorities cooperate with the system.

FIFPro has developed the app amid widespread concerns about the protection of whistleblowers in football.

According to FIFPro research published in 2014, some 71% of players in Greece would not report an approach to fix a match, either because they do not trust reporting would be confidential or because they are worried about intimidation and threats to their career.

Some 44% of footballers in Norway and 34% of players in Scotland said they would not report an approach for the same reasons.

Danish government official Martin Rostgaard recently told an anti-match fixing conference in Rome that the "biggest challenge" is to let athletes know we can receive sensitive information without exposing them to risk.

Athletes approached by match-fixers start thinking "what about my security? who can I rely upon to help? The picture they build up in their mind is that if they're the whistleblower they can be expelled from the sport."

The four Under-21 team players in Malta were banned between 12 months and two years even though they did not accept the gang’s offer to fix a game. All four of the players are expected to appeal.

Two of their teammates who were banned by UEFA for life for other match-fixing offences are also expected to appeal.

Picture below: The Ta'Qali national stadium in Valletta, Malta which hosts international games.