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How low can you go?
Published in Daily News Egypt on 20 - 05 - 2006

If the Juventus football match-fixing allegations have got you wondering whether indeed soccer games are rigged, the short answer is: of course they are, silly, at least some of them. Where there is money and influence, and football is loaded with both, and then hanky-panky is afoot, so to speak.
The furor began when Italian newspapers published intercepted telephone conversations in which Luciano Moggi, the general manager of Juventus, is overheard trying to handpick favorable referees for his club's matches. Apparently, such conversations have spanned two seasons to include 20 games.
If the club is found guilty of sporting fraud, it could be stripped of last season s title and the title it won Sunday, the 29th in its history. Worse still, it could even be relegated to the second division.
It may be the biggest scandal yet in a country where doping trials, shaky finances and betting rings pockmark a tainted landscape. But such systematic malpractice does not stop at the Italian border. People have been talking for ages of bribes offered, of accounts not fully rendered, of just plain cheating.
Three years ago, Franz Beckenbauer, the former World Cup-winning German skipper and coach, stirred up a row after hinting that his club Bayern Munich deliberately threw a Bundesliga match in the 1966-1967 campaign to ensure city rival TSV 1860 Munich did not win the title for a second year running. We lost 5-2 in [Eintracht] Braunschweig and that suited us, the great libero told German television. I can say it now. We did not want our local rivals to win the title again. I m not saying that we lost on purpose but our resistance was limited to the minimum.
*Gheorghe Hagi, Romania s best-known star, alleged that important matches were decided for up to $60,000.
Bernard Tapie, former Socialist politician, millionaire and president of Olympique Marseille, brought France the glory of its first European Cup in 1993 and, almost overnight, the removal of that trophy when the club was disqualified following evidence of bribes to players of Valenciennes to go easy in a league match against Marseille.
Tapie was accused of spreading $20 million over systematic match-rigging and get this, the examining magistrate was charged with dipping for four years into Marseille s corruption coffers.
Fingers are forever being pointed at referees, for in football there is no figure more important to the outcome of games. Among the 41 people ordered to appear for questioning in the Juventus tale is Massimo De Santis, an Italian referee who had been assigned to the World Cup in Germany, but whose accreditation was yanked after the scandal exploded.
In April last year, German referee Robert Hoyzer was banned for life after the 25-year-old admitted to fixing four matches in the Bundesliga for money from a Croatian gambling ring.
Argentina s controversial referee Javier Castrilli, who went up to the quarter-finals in France, accused his country s College of Referees and its head of leaning on referees to rig games.
Unwilling to compromise refereeing impartiality, the European Champions League replaced one of the linesmen for Wednesday's final between Arsenal and Barcelona after he was photographed by a newspaper wearing a Barcelona shirt just a few days earlier. The newspaper wanted Norwegian Ole Hermann Borgan to wear both Arsenal and Barcelona shirts for a photoshoot but only a Barca jersey was available. The unwise pose prevented Borgan from a role in the final.
Because of their crucial position, goalkeepers are also constantly under suspicion. Bruce Grobbelaar, for 13 years in Liverpool as one of the most successful goalkeepers in the British game, faced allegations of match-fixing between 1991 and 1995. A Malaysian businessman was accused of providing $65,000 for Grobbelaar to let Newcastle United score and beat Liverpool in 1993 so that a betting syndicate in the Far East could beat the pools. Grobbelaar was found not guilty because of lack of evidence.
Accusations are, of course, easy; proof is another matter. Backdoor deals are never made in front of cameras. Though it was sickeningly clear that the 22 players of West Germany and Austria and their coaches conspired in the 1982 World Cup to go through to the second round at Algeria's expense, where's the evidence?
What proof did Manchester United s cantankerous manager Alex Ferguson have when, in 2003, he questioned the authenticity of the quarterfinal Champions League draw when Italian teams and their Spanish counterparts each avoided playing clubs from their own country?
FIFA firmly believes there are crooks that move in all the time on soccer s money bags. But corruption has a decades-old head start on a tiny special investigation committee, formed of two, to sniff out corrupters in all of Europe.
Football is a ruthless business and trying to put a lid on soccer corruption, wrote Rob Hughes of The Times of London, is like trying to trap odious vapor in a colander. The poison seeps out.
What are needed are airtight cases of the kind Moggi might now be in. Moggi, nicknamed Lucky Luciano and one of the most powerful figures in Italian football, appears no longer lucky or powerful after he and the entire Juventus board of directors resigned last week in the scandal's wake.
Moggi is one of those creepy creatures crawling out of the woodwork, which should have a section onto himself in David Yallop s devastating book "How They Sold the Game that gave us chapter by repugnant chapter. Yallop could have asked Moggi, "How low can you go?
The sky's the limit.


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