Other nations now under scrutiny
11 February ~ The revelation by Europol, the EU's law enforcement arm, of the extent of match-fixing in football worldwide was shocking but it shouldn't surprise anybody. Ever since I first realised that something was wrong during the now infamous Serie B match between AlbinoLeffe and Piacenza in December 2010, it has seemed obvious that it could not be just an Italian problem. It's scant consolation to those who follow Italian football that we now know that we are in good (or bad) company when it comes to corruption in football, but at least it makes us feel less alone.
Declan Hill, author of The Fix: Soccer And Organized Crime, reacted by saying that while corruption and cheating have existed in sport back to the days of the ancient Olympics, we are currently faced with unprecedented dangers which could kill some sports as we know them. Online gambling means that you can now bet on sporting events anywhere in the world from almost anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. Ten years ago that was not possible.
Hill added that the corruption of European football is moving inexorably westwards. If it has not already done so, it could soon be knocking at the door of Britain. If it does strike, it is less likely to do so in the Premier League, whose high profile probably carries too many risks. It is to be hoped that the authorities will avoid the complacency of Chris Coleman, who has pronounced himself convinced that British football is totally clean following his experiences with Real Sociedad and Larissa.
Meanwhile in Italy the "Last Bet" investigation drags inexorably on. Recently the scene has been dominated by shows of leniency which do not bode well. Napoli were given back two points and two players. To ensure that it did not look as though a big club was receiving favourable treatment, smaller clubs also received points back, including Padova and Portogruaro, and some players had their suspensions lifted or reduced.
In all this story the case of AlbinoLeffe is emblematic. In June they faced a 27-point deduction for their part in nine fixed matches. This was reduced to 15 at the first hearing, then to nine on appeal and finally with the second appeal to just five. With a point deducted for another misdemeanour, they have now lost six points instead of potentially 28, and stand a good chance of avoiding relegation from Lega Pro Prima Divisione (level three).
The justification is that they lost most of the fixed matches and so, as a club, were the victims. This ignores the fact that there was for each match at least one other victim, namely any team that would have benefited from them winning. I no longer support them regularly and have been to only two of their ten home league games. Such a lenient punishment for involvement in so many fixed matches sends out all the wrong messages.
We are also regularly told that it is unfair to punish clubs for the corrupt behaviour of their players on or off the pitch. However, it is surely not unreasonable to hold clubs responsible for anything that is football-related. They do, after all, more or less own their players, and AlbinoLeffe in particular have developed a habit in recent years of making players who refuse to sign a new contract unavailable for selection. They surely cannot have it both ways.
Since in the end all this is about gambling, surely it is time that advertising of betting companies was banned, at least within the game. To see a practice that could destroy the game sponsoring Serie B and the Conference and emblazoned on the shirts of some of its major protagonists shows how blind some of those who run it are to the danger it is in. Geoff Bradford