comment – The Whistleblowers

JUST WHEN everyone thought the refereeing scandal which threatened to overshadow the Euro 2004 Championships had blown over, new, high profile arrests were made by the judicial police last week. Whereas the last ‘Golden Whistle’ operation homed in on League President, Valentim Loureiro, it is now Porto President, Pinto da Costa who finds himself in the limelight. To make matters worse for the leader of the Portuguese and European champions, who are already as good as eliminated from this year’s Champions League, his team lost at home to Beira Mar and the arrest coincides with the publication of his autobiography. Also involved in the corruption investigation are five top referees, one of whom was released after questioning. To cut to the chase, as my American friends might say, the following has transpired.

One of the richest and most influential men in Portuguese football, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, ‘Mr. Porto’, stands accused, together with Augusto Duarte, Jacinto Paixao, Manuel Quadrado and Jose Chilrito – all referees by trade – of bringing the game into disrepute. Namely, to put it plainly, by fixing matches. Also under scrutiny is the owner of a construction company, Antonio Araujo, a shareholder in Brazilian club, Corinthians. Although these accusations will have to be proven in court, I cannot believe that such prominence would be dragged before a judge and/or placed in custody by police without due cause. There is no smoke without fire and the hard-earned brownie points accumulated by the country’s successful staging of a major international football tournament are in danger of being flushed down the toilet. Winning is all very well, but doing so by blatant cheating is abhorrent.

Portimao’s President, Joao Sintra, immediately commented on the turn of events pointing out that this was exactly the kind of thing he had been fighting against. “One of the referees involved, Jacinto Paixao, disadvantaged us last season and it is good that everything is now out in the open”, he said. “We are not against all referees, only against dishonesty and corruption”.