By Constantinos Psillides
INTERNATIONAL referee Marios Panayi came out swinging yesterday, claiming that he had evidence of extensive match fixing and corruption in Cypriot professional football and accusing one of the highest ranking officials to be pulling the strings.
During a much publicised press conference, Panayi claimed that he had in his possession recorded conversations, documents and other evidence, exposing people within the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) as the ones “running the show” when it comes to local football. The referee claimed that CFA appoints referees who are willing to shape the game’s outcome and that they are the ones who decide which teams are relegated.
Panayi identified CFA’s deputy chairman Giorgos Koumas as the man behind the curtain, claiming that he is the one who decides on referee appointments and that he has close ties to football clubs and political parties.
“Gentlemen, if the umbilical cord connecting Koumas to refereeing isn’t cut then we are lost. Koumas is CFA’s man on refereeing and he has been doing this for years,” said Panayi, adding that the CFA chairman, Kostakis Koutsokoumnis is just a straw-man and that the deputy chairman is the one calling all the shots.
The international referee also said that the head of the Cyprus Refereeing Committee, Hans Reijgwart, is there to follow orders and that he is “fully under the control of the people who run things in Cypriot football.”
Panayi, who has not been appointed to a match since September, blamed Reijgwart for sidelining him, claiming that the Dutchman was given orders to “take him out of the picture because he knew too much and he wasn’t willing to do their bidding.”
The referee mentioned that in April 2012 he was asked to referee a top league match, that would decide which team would be relegated, but refused to go, fearing that he would be asked to fix the match.
While Panayi didn’t specify which teams he was referring to, it is understood that he was talking about the April 22, 2012 game between Aris Limassol and Enosis Paralimni. Aris lost and was relegated to the second division. Former club head Kyriakos Hadjikyriakos had told the press then that his team “was up against 13 players.”
The match in question was also flagged by UEFA in a “yellow dossier” case. ‘Yellow’ and ‘red’ cases are matches flagged for suspicious betting behaviour, which may indicate that they were fixed. While UEFA has flagged a number of matches in Cyprus over the years, not a single case has ever found its way to court.
Panayi’s accusations went further than a single game. He claimed that in order for referees to be promoted, they “must play along with the wishes of those who have Cypriot football under their thumb.” Panayi also spoke of an incident when a referee called a club member to promise that he would deliver “a good game.”
CFA has no state oversight, since it’s not a government body and its board members are elected by and represent the clubs.
The international referee went on to say that the “centre of corruption” is in Nicosia and called out the leaders of the three major parliamentary parties, AKEL, DISY and DIKO. “I dare Andros Kyprianou, Averof Neofytou and Nicolas Papadopoulos to come out and deny that either they or their representatives met with people from CFA regarding fixed matches,” he said.
AKEL responded to Panayi’s accusations, saying in a press release that party leader Kyprianou never had any meeting with CFA board members regarding match fixing. AKEL called on the Attorney-general to investigate all allegations made by Panayi, pointing out that party members have spoken on many occasions against the status quo in professional football. The party pledged that it will table Panayi’s allegations for discussion at the House of Representatives.
Beyond match fixing, Panayi claimed that nepotism is rampant when it came to hiring CFA staff, noting that a number of CFA employees are related to board members.
Panayi said that he is willing to hand over to the office of the Attorney-general all the evidence he has, adding that if AG Costas Clerides doesn’t call him, he would visit him anyway.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides was quoted by the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) as saying that Panayi will be called to give a statement to police today, dismissing reports that deputy Attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou had asked Panayi to hand over any evidence directly to him.
“The referee will give a statement which will be included in the case file along with any other evidence. If our findings show that further investigation is indeed warranted, we will hand over the case file to Legal Services,” said Angelides.
CFA chairman Kostakis Koutsokoumnis responded late in the afternoon, saying in a statement that an investigator will be appointed to look into Panayi’s allegations. Koutsokoumnis added that “CFA will not get into a public discussion with anyone regarding the allegations made,” assuring that “an investigation will be carried out.”
The CFA chairman is in Morocco on an official visit.
Sport website kerkida.net reported that Koumas replied “no comment” when asked to comment on Panayi’s accusations.
Panayi pledged that he will not back down. “I’m not afraid. I’m not intimidated by threats and I promise that I will see this case through to the end,” he pledged.
Suspicion of referees being entangled in match fixing is deep seeded within Cypriot football fans and not without cause. Numerous UEFA warnings aside, Cyprus tops the match fixing table when it comes to the top league, according to a report issued by international match fixing watchdog Federbet in June.
When it came to Cyprus, Federbet said that seven matches were suspected to have been fixed. Police spokesman Angelides had told the Cyprus Mail at the time that the police “is keeping a close eye on match fixing.”