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Saturday, January 29, 2005

I fixed games

I gambled on games and fixed them

Referee makes watchdogs' hearts flutter
By Richard Milne
Published: January 28 2005 20:25 | Last updated: January 28 2005 20:25

Taking a dive in boxing or knobbling a horse in racing are as old as the sports themselves. Even team sports - such as baseball, football and cricket - have long been afflicted by match-fixing and dodgy gambling, mostly by influencing money-hungry players.

But sporting corruption has taken a relatively disturbing twist this week in German football: the active involvement of the referee. Robert Hoyzer, a lower-league official, has admitted fixing at least five matches in return for a five-figure sum, alleged to be from a Croatian betting syndicate. At the heart of the scandal - the largest to hit German football since more than 50 players, officials and coaches were caught up in corruption in 1971 - was a cup game in which Bundesliga side Hamburg SV lost a 2-0 lead against lower-placed opposition as Hoyzer awarded two dubious penalties and sent a player off.

Hoyzer's admission, after initially denying the allegations, has sent German football into shock. Hamburg - whose manager had to resign shortly after the cup match as the team's form nosedived - are considering taking legal action. The German football association, the DFB, has been deeply embarrassed by the scandal and is changing the rules so that referees will know only two days before a game which one they will officiate. It is unclear, however, how this measure will stop last-minute betting on games where the official has already been bought.

More serious is the thought that fans and teams will no longer accept a controversial decision as flawed but honest. "We cannot link every questionable decision to what is happening at the moment," said Torsten Frings, a midfielder at Bayern Munich. "That would slowly bring about the death of football."

Equally worrying for authorities is the murky nature of the people behind the corruption. The recent corruption in cricket was largely sparked by Asian-based betting syndicates. Officials in Europe are worried about eastern European gangs, citing the alleged involvement of Croatian betting rings in Berlin in the latest German scandal.

Another growing problem is that the result of matches no longer has to be fixed for a punter to clean up at bookmakers. It is now possible to bet on almost anything in sporting contests: who wins the toss in cricket, how quickly the first corner will come on football, even who will finish last in horse racing. This creates a whole series of other areas to be policed. When one English Premiership football team a few years ago booted the ball out of play almost straight from the kick-off, many asked whether some players had had a small flutter.

The DFB and German football are hoping that Hoyzer is just an isolated case so they can put this scandal behind them as cricket, baseball and all the other sports affected have done. But Hoyzer himself sounded less certain things were over. Ominously, he told German television that there were "a lot of other people" involved.

Of Europe's four major leagues, the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga, the last one is the shakiest. Having lost millions from TV contracts, and suffering from a decline of interest compared to the booming EPL and the well-funded La Liga, the last thing they need is a cheating scandal, especially tied to East European mafias.

In Europe, sports betting is not only legal, but common. So you can walk down any high street, place a bet on you team and then go to the match, no bookie, no phone calls, no debts. The problem is that fixing games makes it that much more serious because of the impact.

If German football is corrupt, one of the sports most important leagues, will be seriously tainted. Everyone knows Serie A has issues, no one wants the Bundesliga to develop it's own issues beyond what they have now. Especially as the EPL's popularity in the US and Asia is exploding. FIFA has to be wary that any scandal could hurt the image of the sport. If Hoyzer isn't alone, this could cause a major crisis in European football.

posted by Steve @ 12:47:00 AM

12:47:00 AM

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