The World from Berlin Match-Fixing Scandal 'Struck at the Heart of Soccer'

The European match-fixing scandal is tragic for soccer fans whose faith in fair play risks being shattered, write German commentators. But corruption can infect any business, and the undercover police operation that exposed it is a positive sign, they add.

A second-division German soccer match between Nürnberg and Osnabrück in May is among matches believed to have been fixed.

A second-division German soccer match between Nürnberg and Osnabrück in May is among matches believed to have been fixed.

Last Friday's revelation of the latest European soccer match-fixing scandal predictably caused a public outcry that was fanned by investigators' claims that the figure of 200 manipulated matches may be only the tip of the iceberg.

Police carried out around 50 raids on Thursday in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria. Authorities arrested 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland and seized over €1 million ($1.5 million) in cash and property.

The case centers on a Berlin-based betting shop, Café King, which featured in a similar scandal five years ago that led to the conviction of German referee Robert Hoyzer.

The suspected games in Germany were played in the second division or lower. Other countries involved are Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia and Austria. Croatian-born Ante Sapina was among five people arrested in Berlin. He was convicted of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 35 months in prison for fixing or attempting to fix 23 games by paying Hoyzer to rig matches.

SPIEGEL has learned that a German referee registered with the DFB German Football Association also appears to have been bribed, in a lower-division match played in May. The DFB was kept in the dark about the investigation into the alleged match fixing.

Meanwhile on Monday Italian police arrested nine people on suspicion of manipulating matches in the country's third division and betting illegally.

Writing in the Monday's editions of German newspapers, several media commentators said the case highlights the successful undercover investigation conducted by the public prosecutor's office in the western city of Bochum in cooperation with police forces in other countries over the last eight months. They were helped by members of the UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, which founded an anti-corruption unit this year.

Commentators say the DFB's "early warning" system, which was introduced after the first scandal five years ago and which aims to detect corruption by analyzing conspicuous changes in betting odds, appears to have failed.

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"There's no question that corruption poses an existential threat to football that is comparable to the destructive impact doping has had on endurance sports. The audience must not lose its faith that the outcome of the match is uncertain. It must remain convinced that skill and fortune alone are the determining factors, and not some shady backroom dealmakers.

"What the task force of UEFA and the prosecutors in Bochum who specialize in economic crime have presented is not a diagnosis. Instead, it's the promising result of a global attempt to solve the problem which seems to make more sense than the early warning system introduced in this country following the match-fixing scandal surrounding referee Robert Hoyzer. The effectiveness of that system must now be called into question.

"It seems that plots conducted in secret must be countered by secret means. Football, a billion-euro business with absurd growth rates, is an almost uncontrollable area due to the impenetrable links between sports officials, politicians, sponsors and the media.

"Following the American example, more cops must be deployed to infiltrate the dark network of fraudsters. And if the network of agents doesn't work, one should maybe one day think about a general ban on sports betting."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"At the news conference on Friday in Bochum, a police officer used the much-quoted image of the tip of the iceberg. But police officers aren't the Oracle of Delphi and a degree of caution is warranted in cases like this one. It's not such a big surprise that matches can be fixed in the second Belgian division or in the Balkans. The less a player earns, the greater the danger that he will do dodgy things for dirty money. It's rather more remarkable that the first German Bundesliga (editor's note: the top German soccer league) hasn't appeared on the list. Do high incomes, legally paid, protect players from infection?

"The Bochum investigators deserve praise. They haven't shied away in their investigations from probing the leagues in Belgium or Slovenia. If they're serious about their probe, they shouldn't be left alone in this never-ending task."

Franz Josef Wagner, a columnist for the mass-circulation daily Bild, writes:

"The match-fixing supposedly happened in the lower divisions. Players with mega-salaries in the first division can't be bought. So the cheating happened where the heart of soccer beats. The cheated fans are the ones who stand shivering on the sidelines in the wind, the cold and the rain. The ones who turn up every Sunday and yell things like 'go on, shoot!,' 'pass the ball,' 'what are you waiting for?' or 'my granny could have saved that one!'

"I feel sorry for those fans. It wasn't a lack of fighting spirit that kept your player from hurling himself at the opponent. It was a few euros. From today on, I'm taking a break from football. I don't want to be screwed anymore."

-- David Crossland

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