Golden whistles

THE LARGE-SCALE investigation into corruption at the highest level of the game, started early last year, is continuing in Portugal. Porto President, Pinto da Costa, has been in custody together with five referees and a construction company owner and, in latest developments, further match officials, administrators and Council members have been interviewed by the judicial police nationwide. By now, it seems very likely that certain referees have been accepting bribes to influence games, not only in lower divisions but also in the Super Liga. Portuguese referees have been excluded from FIFA’s list of possible 2006 World Cup officials and the country was in danger of becoming a European pariah. Fortunately, the problem is not restricted to the extremes of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the last two weeks, a bribery scandal has rocked the German football establishment, a confession and dubious Mafia links emerging in the resulting clean-up action.

In the World Cup host country, criminal elements, rather than clubs, are manipulating results for betting purposes. And the cancer does not stop there. Austria, Greece and Italy have all been implicated in similar activities since.

‘Fixing’ the result of a sporting contest is clearly wrong, bad for the game, bad for the players and bad for the fans. The problem is greed, human nature and grossly disproportionate recompense. It is almost unbelievable that until recently amateur referees receiving little more than expenses were relied upon to ‘police’ encounters worth millions, conducted by players earning millions. The introduction of paid match officials has changed little in the relative monetary stakes involved. Now that top coaches, such as José Mourinho, are earning as much as top players, the time has come to pay top referees top wages too. Anything less and that ugly green monster will continue to rear its head.