THERE MAY have been no arrests yet, but the complacent, inward-looking football authorities have been shaken up by the public revelations made by referee Marios Panyi last week. He did not say anything new – football followers have been talking about match-fixing for decades, as if it were as much a part of the Cyprus game as the offside trap and a player diving – but the fact he spoke publicly and gave a statement to the police, meant that the continuous allegations could no longer be dismissed as fans’ gossip.
Then again, in a country in which corruption and dishonesty are seen everywhere, could football have been any different? Would the people that run football be any different from those that run the municipalities, the semi-governmental organisations and the unions? The peculiar thing is that the clubs make no money from football. On the contrary, all clubs – with the possible exception of APOEL, which earned a bundle from its participation in the Champions League group stages this year – are heavily in debt and probably insolvent.
Clubs owe big amounts of money to the state, the banks and their players; many are in constant danger of having points docked, in line with UEFA directives, because of their bad finances. We mention this because it shows there is no cash incentive to cheat, except in order to avoid relegation. Clubs that fix matches will not become wealthy nor would their officials (wealthy people that take over clubs always leave poorer) so what is the point in doing it? Betting might have something to do with it – 17 matches in Cyprus have been flagged for suspicious betting by UEFA.
This still does not seem to provide adequate explanation for the alleged match-fixing which according to those in the know had been part of the game long before betting arrived and while clubs were poor but without today’s debts. Now that the clubs have much bigger budgets spending vast amounts of money on the wages of foreign players, brought in to raise standards and improve the spectacle, it would have been reasonable to expect the fixing to have stopped. After all, what is the point of going deep into debt to raise the game’s standards while allowing corrupt practices?
Regardless of what the answers are Panayi should be congratulated for his off-the pitch whistle-blowing. It has forced the police to start investigations – the offices of the Cyprus Football Association were raided on Monday – and given a jolt to the smug officials that run the Association. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen.