Monday’s announcement by Europol about an investigation its officials claim involves at least 425 soccer players, match officials, club officials and criminals to affect almost 700 matches in Europe sent fans into shock. There have been many match-fixing scandals in the past, but most were limited in scale, usually to one country.
The 18-month investigation, Operation Veto, was a joint effort between Europol and police personnel in 13 countries, said Europol director Rob Wainwright during a press conference to announce its findings. He said an estimated $11 million was made from betting profits and more than $2.7 million in payments were made to influence matches.
The shock may be how far up the alleged match-fixing occurred: World Cup and European Championship qualifiers. Wainwright said more than 13,000 e-mails were found to connect the soccer personnel and criminals. He added the investigation already has led to 14 convictions for a combined 39 years in prison in Germany, home of one of the most serious scandals in recent years.
It was in November 2009 when German police, with evidence provided through telephone taps of organized crime activities, arrested 17 people on charges of fixing at least 200 matches in nine countries. Among them were three UEFA Champions League and 12 UEFA Europa League matches. With Europol stating the investigation involves matches as far back as 2008, this case likely was part it.
Germany also was where a match official, Robert Hoyzer, admitted betting on several matches in which he worked. Hoyzer later implicated players and other referees in the investigation; he was banned from German soccer for life and received a 2-year, 5-month prison sentence.
Italy was made infamous in May 2006 for “Calciopoli,” in which four major clubs — two-time Serie A defending champion Juventus, Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina — were implicated in match fixing by selecting referees who would be favorable to their sides, and Italian national goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was charged with betting on matches.
Juventus suffered the harshest punishment for the start of the 2006-07 season: banned from European competition, stripped of its two consective championships, and relegation to Serie B. Lazio and Fiorentina were banned from European competition, while Milan was permitted to enter the Champions League in the third qualifying round. Milan went on to win the tournament championship.
The most recent large-scale scandal came in July 2011, when nearly 60 people were arrested in Turkey in an investigation that touched top clubs and club officials. The clubs, which included Galatasaray, Fenerbache and Trabzonspor, were cleared, but Fenerbache’s president received a 6-year prison sentence; its vice president was sentenced to nearly two years in prison.
Two scary thoughts about Europol’s investigation comes to mind. The number of people and matches involved far exceeds the combined actions of the referenced scandals. The fear is the surface may only have been scratched.