20 December ~ Yesterday morning's TV bulletins led with the news of 17 arrests in the Italian betting scandal that broke last June. They include Cristiano Doni of Atalanta and Carlo Gervasoni of Piacenza, both already suspended as a result of the original investigation, but also some new names. They are Luigi Sartor who played for Juventus, Parma, Inter and Roma; Filippo Carobbio once of AlbinoLeffe, Reggina, Genoa and Siena, and now with Spezia in Prima Divisione; and the previously unknown Alessandro Zamperini of Ventspils in Latvia, who also had brief spells at West Ham and Portsmouth. There are also a number of new games involved, including at least three from last season's Serie A.
One person involved has said match-fixing has been going on for the last ten years. Doni is accused of trying to tamper with evidence. It is alleged that he communicated with his associates using a mobile phone registered in the name of a Romanian to avoid detection. This could explain why his name never appeared in any of the recorded conversations.
He is said to have paid part of the bills of the lawyer of one of the defendants, Nicola Santoni, in order that he would "keep quiet" when questioned about his relationship with Doni. It is also claimed he tried to doctor data Santoni's iPhone. When the police arrived to arrest him at dawn, he attempted to escape in his pyjamas.
The judge leading the investigation, Roberto di Martino, has said this is only the beginning. Doni and the rest are accused of being part of a criminal organisation with headquarters in Singapore and its European operational base in some of the countries of the former Soviet bloc, but with tentacles reaching into Western Europe, South America and Africa.
The organisation's aim was to fix the results of matches and defraud the public. Di Martino said no country can consider itself immune. The head of the Italian football justice system is waiting for the documentation before initiating a second sporting "trial" that could have dire consequences for some clubs, primarily Atalanta.
It has been pointed out, though, that the criminal justice system is always the first to act in these cases and never the sport involved. It is as though the sporting authorities, who must know or suspect something, would nevertheless prefer everything to be hushed up.
Some have criticised the timing of the arrests, but the judicial authorities would probably reply that it is their job to act when they are sure they have the evidence, and that they cannot be influenced by the fact it is the festive season. Perhaps the investigators assume the suspects will be more likely to talk if they think they could be in prison for Christmas.
It is a year since I was alerted by the suspicious nature of the now notorious AlbinoLeffe v Piacenza Serie B game. In the past 12 months it has become clear that football is now facing the deadliest threat in its history in the form of multifarious ways of gambling on matches. On one hand they are legal, but on the other hand they open to all kinds of corruption that are difficult if not impossible to control.
Any lover of football who does not recognise the extreme gravity of the situation has their head buried in the sand. As for FIFA and the various continental federations, the time for talk is over. We need action and we need it now. Geoff Bradford