Men’s basketball match under investigation over ‘unprecedented’ unsportsmanlike behaviour

Basketball teams Hibernians and De Piro attempted to intentionally lose their match in order to have an easier route to the final • MBA says guilty parties will ‘receive maximum punishment’

Screenshot showing players lazying around in an attempt to lose the match
Screenshot showing players lazying around in an attempt to lose the match

Updated at 3:23 pm with Depiro Basketball reaction 

A basketball match in Malta’s senior men division between Hibernians and De Piro is being investigated over players’ behaviour and performance during the last match of the regular season.

On Saturday, the two teams played their last game of the regular season, ahead of the season play-offs due to start in the coming weeks.

Sources who spoke to this newspaper said both Hibernians and De Piro intended losing their game, in a bid to be the first to drop fourth in the play-offs to face Naxxar Starlites, a weaker team that would give them the easier route to the final.

In the play-offs, the first and fourth placed teams were to face each other; the second-placed team would play the third-placed. The winners of these play-offs face each other in the final.

So second-placed Hibernians and third-placed De Piro were hoping to lose, drop fourth, to face the Starlites.

In a video going viral that shows the last six minutes of the match between the two, players can be seen intentionally losing the ball and putting it out of play. Sources close to the club also said that a number of young players were fielded in the match, with some as young as 16 debuting in the men’s senior league.

The match has been put under the spotlight as both teams have managed strong performances throughout the season, with Hibs winning three domestic titles.

 Hibs player blocks an auto basket attempt by the opposition’s player
Hibs player blocks an auto basket attempt by the opposition’s player

Earlier in the day, Starlites emerged victorious against Mellieha Libertas with a 75-72 score line. But the match between Depiro and Hibernians ended with a 69-68 win for Depiro, with the online footage even showing a Hibs player blocking an auto basket attempt by the opposition’s player.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Malta Basketball Association President Paul Sultana expressed his anger on the incident. “We have started an investigation on the case, and we will be hearing both sides’ argument on the issue,” he said. “A decision is expected by the end of the week.”

He said the match went against all sporting principles of fair play. “I am very disappointed, it goes against sporting spirit, and it’s ridiculous.”

Sultana said the situation is “unprecedented”, and that the association has to consult with FIBA regulation on the issue. “Under normal circumstances we see matches where one team is trying to win, and another that is trying to lose, but here both teams want to lose.”

Malta Basketball Association Paul Sultana
Malta Basketball Association Paul Sultana

He promised those found guilty of unsporting behaviour by the MBA “will receive the maximum punishment available”. He said a coach has offered his resignation to the club, but refused to delve into greater detail.

Sultana also played down any claims of match-fixing, saying the information available to the association at the time showed the teams were striving to maximise their chances at getting to the final.

Sources who spoke to this newspaper said despite betting company BET 365 starting to release odds on local basketball matches as of this season, the chances of match-fixing are low, as due to the amateur level of the league, bets are restricted to around €50 a match.

The sources also said that unlike football, which has experienced several instances of match fixing, basketball players are never approached to be bribed.

Depiro Basketball reacts

Reacting to reports, Depiro Basketball said it reaffirms “its core values and good work” achieved over the past years towards supporting the development of basketball in Malta.

“Following the match against Hibernians, the club investigated the matter and disassociates itself from certain attitude shown by the team during the last few minutes of the game,” it said. “The Committee was not previously aware of any approach that could have been relevant to the team’s performance during the match, but it resulted to the club that allegations of potential match-fixing are unfounded.”

It has called on head coach James Bamfield for an explanation, and the latter has since offered his resignation. “Depiro Basketball Club would be communicating its definitive position on its head coach in due course.”