Two-and-a-half weeks after the first allegations about corruption in Cyprus football were made public by Omonia, its chairman Stavros Papastavros called a news conference to repeat these allegations and announce a series of measures the club would undertake to expose allegedly dishonest referees as well as alleged bribery of players and match-fixing. The club said it would take action because the state and the football authorities had failed to do anything about the allegations it had made.
The initiative would involve four different actions. First, a report on Cyprus football and its leadership drafted by Omonia will be sent to European football’s governing body Uefa, the expertise of which would be sought in investigating information and events that were included in the report. Second, a website will be set up and on it the club will post “refereeing mistakes or anything else bad, filthy or illegal taking place in Cyprus football,” Papastavros said. Third, a report would be sent to Uefa every week with all the latest “mistakes, omissions, bad practices and illegalities”.
The fourth action involves setting up an email account to which people can send information about illegalities so these can be investigated by a lawyer to try to corroborate them and then send the report to the attorney-general and Uefa. Informers will be rewarded with anything between 5,000 and 25,000 euros, presumably depending on the value of the information provided. The idea, Papastavros said, was to gather as much evidence as possible so as to help the state, the police and the Cyprus Football Association to take the necessary action.
No matter how well-meaning Papastavros might be, it is difficult to see how his initiative could achieve its objective, for the very simple reason that concrete evidence leading to criminal charges being brought is very difficult to come by. All the claims of match fixing are hearsay. As for the idea he could prove his case by collecting incidents of “mistakes by referees”, it would be laughed at by Uefa because referees make mistakes, including glaring ones, in all leagues of the world, every weekend. Using bad decisions by refs as ‘proof’ of corruption will undermine rather than weaken his case.
Everyone seems to know that Cyprus football is not clean and honest but proving this will be extremely difficult because those responsible have many years’ expertise in secret dealings, covering their tracks and protecting each other. And the problem is that without concrete evidence, police cannot secure access to bank accounts or telephone conversations (the phone tapping law is poised to be sent back to the legislature). It is not impossible to clean up Cyprus football, but it would require a major police operation, use of football club insiders and the political will of the authorities to go all the way.