SPORTS

UEFA is fighting for soccer’s credibility

European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, is determined to protect the game’s transparency, image, and principles following the recent European match-fixing scandal that sent shockwaves around the continent, Lars-Christer Olsson, UEFA’s chief executive officer, told Kathimerini in an exclusive interview from his office in Nyon, Switzerland. The CEO offered a detailed plan of how UEFA would go about combating the various problems. In Germany’s biggest soccer scandal for decades, referee Robert Hoyzer confessed, earlier this year, to fixing matches in the German Cup and lower leagues in return for money from gamblers, while adding that the ring also fixed matches elsewhere, including in Greece. An investigation is currently being conducted on a UEFA Cup tie between Athens club Panionios and Georgian team Dynamo Tbilisi. This game’s investigation was one of the interview’s key subjects. Olsson avoided disclosures but did appear to be fully informed of the case’s developments. Judging by his remarks, tough disciplinary action is likely to be implemented. UEFA’s disciplinary inspector, Dr Gerhard Kapl, and his associates are continuing the investigation into the Panionios-Dynamo Tbilisi match. Could you reveal to us what stage the probe has reached? The investigation, as you know, is continuing, so I am not able to make any official statements or reveal its contents. The disciplinary committees at UEFA function independently from the administration. They conduct their probes and only request our support when it is needed, especially on an infrastructure level. Only when the investigation is complete and we have the findings will we get further involved with the case. Are you optimistic about Gerhard Kapl’s findings? I’m referring to the accumulation of evidence. Yes, I am optimistic about the investigation. The case, until now, has been handled exceptionally, and I think it will be completed. Of course there are difficulties. Proof is needed… but I have absolute faith in the work been done. You’re referring to the investigation into the alleged match-fixing charges made by the Armenian soccer federation against Greek officials with regard to the [Armenia-Greece] game in Yerevan. And not only. I’m convinced that the investigation will be conducted in the best way possible. We also have legal specialists working with us. They have all the required legal support. As for the probe’s findings, it’s not possible for me to have a public opinion. We’re all expecting strict punishment. Are you in favor of strict penalties? The disciplinary committee is independent. Neither I nor the [UEFA] president, nor anybody else for that matter, can intervene in its work. This committee is following specific procedures based on information and regulations. It has the authority to make very strict decisions and is able to characterize as «persona non grata» individuals involved in the case and detrimental to soccer. The committee could impose sanctions and tough penalties on players and coaches, as well as teams, based on UEFA regulations. Following the disciplinary committee’s verdict, do you intend to take further action to prevent future match-fixing cases from happening? We’re already discussing the issue. For example, we intend [this week] to meet with representatives of state-run lottery and soccer pool companies and discuss whether we could set up some sort of surveillance system for unusual gambling patterns. On the other hand, though, we’re not a police force or anything like that. What we can do is enforce rules and take measures against clubs, officials and others if they’re involved in match-fixing rings. The other big issue of recent weeks has been the match-fixing scandal in Germany and all of Europe, best known as the Hoyzer scandal. A month ago, UEFA asked all federations to establish control units, lay out procedures and take measures. Would you like, then, to explain to us these procedures and measures requested from [national] federations to confront a scandal that has tarnished the image of European soccer? Yes, the investigations conducted in Germany revealed holes in regulations. That’s why we must begin by introducing regulations to cover these gaps and be able to intervene. We can’t do anything substantial without regulations and rules. That’s just one of the measures. As we see it, all federations must harmonize and implement common regulations. Second, as I said earlier, the educational system, especially that of referees, needs to be modernized and adjusted. For example, the appointment of referees for games – this needs to be handled by professional committees and based on specific grounds to offer guarantees, or maximum possible guarantees… As for our intervention into the Hoyzer case, we need to wait for the court’s verdict. Is it possible that you may also pursue your own independent inquiry with the establishment of a specialized team, a task force, to examine even more thoroughly the match-fixing ring’s impact on European soccer? That’s not possible right now. Even though the findings to date indicate that rings operated nationally, we’re waiting for, as I said, the court’s verdict in Germany. We’ll then act accordingly. I don’t rule anything out. The findings will determine… The [recent] decision by the Swedish referee Anders Frisk to retire [immediately after receiving death threats against him and his family] brought to the fore the issue of leading referees and the intense pressure they’re under. Besides summoning [Chelsea coach] Jose Mourinho [UEFA yesterday banned him for two games after the Portuguese coach alleged Frisk colluded with FC Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard at halftime of the February 23 Champions League game at Camp Nou, prompting the death threats], do you plan to take other action? Yes, many initiatives are in progress – some have been implemented. For us, referees stand as a guarantee of the credibility of competitions, so they must be able to do their job without influence or pressure. Which is why the matter concerning Anders Frisk was totally unacceptable. We’ve spelt out that everybody inside a soccer ground – players, coaches, officials – has responsibilities to assume at will. Otherwise we’ll be taking strict disciplinary action against all unacceptable behavior.