The curious case of the footballer in Gozo

Everyone knows that football is our national sport. Despite mediocre performances by our national team, and persistent rumours of corruption in the local game it maintains a following whose passion borders on the religious. Fans stay up all night to watch their favourite team and spend huge sums of money to watch them play abroad, but what happened a fortnight ago in Gozo must go down as a milestone in the importance given to this sport locally.

A man, a footballer and ex national team player, was put under arrest for allegedly assaulting his wife and threatening to shoot her with a gun. Rightly so, until he was due to be arraigned in court the following Monday. What began as a routine case of domestic violence took on a twist the day after that will be viewed in the annals of Malta’s Football and judicial history as definitely a first.

Sometime on Sunday someone unknown from the Gozo Ministry made a phone call to the police asking them to release the arrested man so that he would be available to play for his team Xewkija Tigers for a 3pm kickoff. The police acquiesced and the footballer duly played for his team, which subsequently won.

Now Xewkija Tigers is no Barcelona, and the competition in Gozo is no Champions League, but I suppose the result must have been very important to the person who made that phone call, and judging by the result of the match he probably thinks his action was more than justified.

The footballer was arraigned the day after and released under certain conditions. A whole hallabaloo was raised when the incident became public knowledge. An inquiry has been launched, but curiously a Magistrate was not appointed to head it, but an ex-army officer.

Some have tried to make political capital of the incident. I am no fan of Joseph Muscat but even if he did micro manage his ministers and departments, which he apparently does not, I would find it hard to believe he had anything to do with the goings on in a village in Gozo on a Sunday afternoon.

What is concerning, however, is the following:

1. A man was released into the community after threatening his wife with a firearm. There was nothing to stop that man following up on that threat from the time he was released to when he was arraigned in court. The victim was left defenceless by the very people who are paid to protect her.

This shows a total disregard by our police for the seriousness of domestic violence and sends signals that victims cannot be sure of police support. The percentage of unreported cases of domestic violence is sill very high. If they are not given their due importance we cannot expect the situation to improve. Remember we have already had several cases in the past few years which were not acted upon and eventually led to the victim’s death.

2. What happened is a symptom of the deteriorating standards within our police force. Poorly trained police leads to a poor response. Five commissioners in three years does not make for effective leadership and no non-professional CEO will change that. What is needed is an experienced apolitical Commissioner who does not give a flying cuckoo who is in government.

3. That a ministry official even considered it feasible to influence the police is indicative of how far this country has slipped down the slope of lack of accountability and responsibility and poor governance. The puerile reason for which it was done is irrelevant. It sends signals that the rule of law in this country holds no water with those with the right connections, be they personal, business or political.

It is time Malta and its government took a reality check. The increasing anarchy in its institutions does no one any favour in the long run. Cronyism and its after effects are eroding the pillars of our society. This is a direct result of the two party system we have had for way too long, and will continue to do so if things aren’t changed. In the meantime whoever is running this responsible to grab it by the neck and haul it from the abyss it is taking into. Economic success alone does not make for a well run country and this government will not be  judged on that singular issue.

Anthony Buttigieg is deputy leader of the Partit Demokratiku