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Swiss FA dishes out fixing bans

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Matt Slater | 08:01 UK time, Saturday, 22 May 2010

When Swiss Football Association (ASF) officials were told by German investigators that 22 games in Switzerland's second tier last year might have been fixed, they were flabbergasted.

They could scarcely believe anybody was betting on those games, let alone conspiring with criminals to throw them - but they were and now nine players have been handed lengthy bans.

The worst offenders - five players from Gossau, Slavonija Bern and Thun - have been hit with indefinite suspensions that will last at least three years, effectively ending their professional careers.

These sanctions are the first to be dished out by a national federation as part of the European-wide investigation into match-fixing that was sparked by 50 police raids in four different countries, including the UK, last November.

Those raids, instigated by prosecutors in the German city of Bochum, were intended to smash an illegal betting ring that may have fixed 200 games in nine countries, although many fear that is a gross underestimate of the size of the problem.

No British games are under suspicion but there are 15 Champions League and Europa League games which might have been nobbled, as well as 29 fixtures in Turkey's top flight and a qualifying game for the European Under-21 Championships.

The extent of the conspiracy shocked European football's governing body, Uefa, and Peter Limacher, its head of disciplinary services, looked a broken man as he sat between two senior police officials during a dramatic press conference in Bochum last year.

bochum595.jpg Limacher at Uefa's press conference in Bochum. Photo: Getty images

"This is clearly the worst ever match-fixing scandal in European football," Limacher said. "We at Uefa are stunned by the magnitude of this."

Some might ask why European football's guardians were so stunned by the news - it's not as if they weren't warned. In the last five years alone, there have been two huge scandals on Uefa's patch.

First, there was the 2005 case of Robert Hoyzer (a corrupt German referee in cahoots with a Croatian gang). And then a year later Italy was scandalised when it emerged that four of the country's biggest teams - AC Milan, Fiorentina, Juventus and Lazio - were complicit in a staggering match-fixing conspiracy.

The last four years have seen fewer headline-grabbing cases but evidence of a growing threat to the game's integrity has been present for those willing to look: Canadian academic and journalist Declan Hill, author of "The Fix", has been trying to raise awareness of the threat for years.

But those warnings may finally have been heeded.

The news of the Swiss sanctions comes a week after Uefa officials visited Hungarian champions Debrecen to question eight players about their home defeat to Fiorentina in the group stages of this year's Champions League. The Hungarians lost a topsy-turvy game 4-3, having been 4-2 down after just 37 minutes.

A club official later downplayed the significance of Uefa's visit and claimed this was the best display in a disappointing group stage campaign by Debrecen. I didn't see enough of them to make a judgement on that - I vaguely remember the 1-0 home and away defeats by Liverpool - but I can say it does not fit the pattern of the games fixed in Switzerland.

liverpool595.jpgDavid Ngog scored Liverpool's winner in Debrecen. Photo: Getty images

Urs Reinhard, the ASF's disciplinary chief, told me the most common scam there was for players to back their teams to lose by two clear goals. To place their bets the players would visit nondescript offices in Austria or southern Germany. A week or two later these offices would be vacated, making it difficult for investigators to follow the money trail.

Reinhard said one German-based individual had been identified as a common link in the conspiracy and prosecutors in Germany and Switzerland are building their case against him. He also the ASF had discovered that even friendly matches were being fixed.

"The whole thing came as a terrible surprise for us," said Reinhard. "And it really bothers me that we couldn't find out more about it."

A spokesman for Uefa later confirmed to me it was the extent of the Bochum conspiracy, and sums of money involved (£1.5m was seized in the November raids), that had proved so shocking to them last year. He also said that tackling the threat of match-fixing was "top of our agenda".

In terms of what happens next, we should expect more bans to be dished out by the national federations of the countries affected - the four mentioned already, plus Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia - while the criminal cases in Germany and elsewhere proceed at an inevitably careful pace.

The challenge for football and the courts will be tying it all together, because while a few hefty bans might make tempted players reconsider, only prison will stop the criminals who induce them into cheating fans, teammates and themselves.

All attention this weekend will justifiably be on the Champions League final, the highlight of the European domestic calendar, but the football authorities would be well advised to get their heads back in the game as soon as the party is over in Madrid.

Last year Uefa president Michel Platini described match-fixing as the "greatest danger to football". Nothing has really changed so far this year, although the fightback might have just started.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh well, most football fans only care about the big clubs who play first division football. These kind of match fixing scandals only occur in vague Eastern-European countries.

    Keep in mind that the Italian match-fixing can't be compared to what they suspect here. They did not bribe anyone( or atleast it wasn't proved they did) .

  • Comment number 3.

    Whenever any news like this it always comes as a shock. As a fan going to a game you expect both sides to be giving it everything to get a result and to find out some player weren't must be heartbreaking when you have supported them all season.

    Although it is sad to hear the news it also in an odd way is great. As you said Matt with every prosecution comes more reasons to stop others doing the same. At the same time it obviously ends the corruption that the prosecution has uncovered. - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 4.

    The penalties need to be much, much stricter before people think twice about this.

    Those organising it should be chaged with one count of fraud for each and every bet placed on a fixed match, with jail sentances to run consecutivly that would mean a whole heap of jail time even if they only got 1 week per bet!

    In the cases of individual players, bans are not enough, they need to be lifetime and then they need to be taken to court, prosecuted and sent down too. The thought of years inside will make a lot of players think twice, especially with all they have to loos.

    In the cases of clubs conspiring, relegation to the bottom tier of their national competition is the only anwser, the fact that italian teams found guilty were still fine to play in europe was an outrage, any team found guilty by due process should be banned from UEFA compititions for one year but extended until the club has sold on every player who played in the matches, till the manager is gone and till every member of the board at the time has stood down. They should also loose TV rights payments for the duration of the above clearout and any other payments from the leauge, including payments for winning any cup competitions and league placement payments. If a club is found guilty a second time within 5 years it should be barred from all professional leagues and competitions in europe for 10 years.

    Only by having serious and crippling punishments will this sort of stuff be put to bed.

  • Comment number 5.

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  • Comment number 7.

    It is a sad reflection on society that anything and everything that is not totally reliant on chance and is legal to bet on has been tampered with in some way...From targeting slot machines with a lower than average pay out, through lower league football and on to the colour of the Queens outfit at Ascot.

    The biggest shock to me is that people are surprised about it....

    Yes, you are right, I do have a very low opinion of society in general...

  • Comment number 8.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 9.

    "Those raids, instigated by prosecutors in the German city of Bochum, were intended to smash an illegal betting ring that may have fixed 200 games in nine countries, although many fear that is a gross underestimate of the size of the problem."

    What football needs is its own truth and reconciliation commission - it would be appropriate if steps to set it up were taken in the year that the World Cup is played in South Africa.

  • Comment number 10.

    Is this one alright?

    Not that there was anything wrong with my previous post.

    "How many times do I have to tell the BBC that there was no match-fixing in the Calciopoli scandal?

    No matches were proven to be fixed, and at worst a bunch of club officials were a little too friendly with the refereeing designators. That in itself is a minor offence, which every club was guilty of, as Luciano Moggi is successfully proving in the criminal trial in Napoli.

    The scandal as a whole had the sole intention of bringing down Juventus, as numerous evidence has pointed to over the past 4 years.

    So please BBC, rather than damaging the Juventus name with false claims, actually do some research."


  • Comment number 11.

    Match-fixing exists at all levels of the game across the globe. Proving it is the problem. There's a fine line between an individual having an off-day or making a genuine mistake, and someone deliberately having a negative impact on their team through their actions.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with some of the posts that say they are surprised that others are surprised. It is quite obvious to me and I am sure many others that there is a lot of match fixing going on, including bribing of referees. There have been so many shockingly poor refereeing decisions in the last 5 years, it has to be fixed. The reason that they don't want video technology is because it would be far more difficult to cheat and use the excuse of poor decisions.
    I am quite sure this recent discovery is only the tip of a massive iceberg. This has to be addressed soon because I think along with the buying of clubs just for profit with no interest in sport, or to repay massive debts football is in danger of slipping down a very slippry slope.
    Football is a wonderful game, but somebody has to stand up and tell what they know to stop it from becoming a farce. Sadly, we aren't far away. Let's hope that somebody has the balls to rescue the beautiful game.

  • Comment number 13.

    At last UEFA are tackling this scourge in football. But for how long will it be a top priority?

    To be honest, with the way things are run in the game when will the governing bodies be investigated as I'll bet a swiss franc that there is corrupt practices going on... now where can I find a bookies take my money ;-)

  • Comment number 14.

    People bet simply because they are GREEDY.

    This means that they will also fix betting for the same reason. Pure GREED.

    Although people are the problem, the method their venality comes out is, in this case, through betting - should betting therefore be banned? It is interesting that Biblical Christians do not bet...

  • Comment number 15.

    Morning all, thanks for reading, here are some replies (and apologies for the delay, I spent the weekend in the garden):

    Blaffert (2) - I think you're right that most fans (the overwhelming majority in some countries) only care about the top teams. And there is a perception that this is only a problem in "vague East European countries". But fans are wrong if they think match-fixing isn't something for them to worry about.

    First, if matches are being fixed and players/officials bribed lower down the league ladder, you can be certain that it's only a matter of time/money before it happens higher up the ladder. Corruption is contagious. Second, an entire sport's credibility can be undermined by just a few rotten apples. Three, it's not just far away countries of which we know little and even if it was that would be no reason to ignore it: if it can happen there, it can happen here. And four, it is already happening here! Remember the Blue Square Conference games that were fixed a few years ago? Not to mention the Sheffield Wednesday scandal from the 60s and the Grobbelaar allegations.

    laughingdevil (4) - I think you're right. Sporting bans are one thing (and they need to be severe...I would say the Swiss bans of at least 3-years are pretty severe) but they need to be backed up by criminal sanctions too. This is fraud and should be treated seriously.

    dw07 (8) - You're undoubtedly right that the risk is greater lower down the pyramid because the motivation and opportunity is greater. Second-tier (or lower) players will always be more vulnerable to temptation because the money will be so much more tempting. The players are also more accessible outside the top flight. There are fewer security staff, media, officials etc about so the bad guys can get to them. But it would be a mistake to think an illegal gambling ring won't, at some point, try to nobble a really big game. Their attitude would be everybody has their price. I think there is also a criminal kudos element to this - being able to fix a top game would be quite a feather in somebody's cap. The John Higgins case in snooker is an indication of this.

    R Nair (9) - Not a bad idea and I know some have suggested it as a means of tackling doping in athletics or cycling. Definitely worth thinking about.

    GigiBuffon1 (10) - Sorry about your 1st post, I didn't see it so I don't know why the mods took it down. I can say with hand on heart that I have never referred a comment on any of my blogs to the mods. In regard to your point about calciopoli, I agree it was different to the current Bochum conspiracy in that there was no link to gambling, but I disagree with your comment about it having nothing to do with match-fixing. Why were Juve et al trying to influence the appointment of certain referees for their matches??? Please, take off the blinkers and acknowledge that this was more than just a "minor offence". It was cheating and Juve cheated worse than the others.

    footballfutbolfitba (11) - Proving it is very difficult, and to be honest it's usually beyond the resources/rulebook of most football federations. But that is why the involvement of law enforcement is so important. They have the time, money and jurisdiction to get phone record, seize computers, search homes and put people under surveillance. The fight against doping only got serious when government got involved, match-fixing will be the same.

    TheBlackSkunk (12) - You make a good point and to be fair to Uefa they certainly view tackling match-fixing as part of their wider crusade for "financial fair play". Uefa has agreements with all the major gambling companies to monitor betting patterns and has also signed deals with the authorities in Asia to share information on illegal gambling groups. They have also beefed up their compliance/investigative teams, so they're trying, at least.

    Anyway, here's hoping something good comes of the Bochum case. Thanks for reading.

  • Comment number 16.

    Matt, you're wrong on Calciopoli. I acknowledge that the accusation of match-fixing was thrown at Juventus, but it has not been proven.

    With regards to the phone calls, Moggi NEVER spoke to referees. To fix a match you need either a player on side, or a referee. No accusation has ever been made against a player, and Moggi wasn't speaking with referees, so how could he be fixing matches?

    Moggi spoke with the designators, but that's no big deal as every club did. There was nothing in these calls which confirmed illicit activity, and I'm also keen to point out that there's nothing confirming illicit activity in the recent calls involving officials from numerous clubs, including "saintly" Inter. At worst these are relationships that seemed a little too friendly.

    Some people were fed up with Juventus winning, and used their corporate power to bring the club, and Moggi, down. The evidence supporting that theory far outweighs the weak and flawed argument that Juventus were controlling football.

    Take a look at this link and read about the other side, rather than the anti-Juventus viewpoint of the Gazzetta Dello Sport.


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