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Match fixing suspicions provide German football’s biggest battle yet

Kit Holden
Robert Hoyzer 300x225 Match fixing suspicions provide German footballs biggest battle yet

German referee Robert Hoyzer was jailed in 2005 for fixing matches

It is a rare thing indeed to read of the virtues of Michel Platini. If popular opinion is to be believed, Uefa’s president is an anglophobic, technophobic bureaucrat, intent on bringing down English football purely out of spite. Not only that, but he’s also desperate to bring about the End of the World as we know it by holding the World Cup in Qatar.

And yet it is this apparently hapless and malevolent individual who has, in his reign as Uefa President, correctly identified the two most serious problems faced by the modern game. The first is abuse of the game’s liberal financial system. His policy of Financial Fair Play, while by no means flawless, is a huge step in the right direction if we want to return football to the hands of football people. Even more significantly, though, Platini has maintained, for at least the last three years, that there is one evil more dangerous to football than any other. And Europol’s revelations this week, it seems, once again, that nasty old Uncle Michel was absolutely right.

In February 2011, Michel Platini told German magazine kicker about his view that match fixing was the most serious threat to the modern game. He has reiterated the sentiment many times since, most recently only two weeks ago. This week, it was revealed that, between 2008 and 2011, nearly 700 games in world football have been subject to manipulation. Around 380 of those have been in Europe, and the corruption has even found its way into the elite competitions, with games from the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers also reportedly affected.

One of the most badly hit nations, it seems, has been Germany. So far, 70 games within Germany have been reportedly involved, with 51 of those already dealt with by the State Court of Bochum. If initial reports are to be believed, then none of these have affected the country’s top flight, with most games being confined to the regional divisions in the fourth and fifth tiers. And yet, at a time when German football is reasserting its power on the continent, both in terms of on and off field success, this is a grave and untimely crisis for the Bundesliga’s newfound favour.

Match fixing is not new ground for German football. In 2005, officials were alerted to the most serious case of manipulation that the country had ever seen, after referee Robert Hoyzer was proved to have deliberately engineered fourth tier Paderborn’s cup victory over Bundesliga outfit Hamburger SV. The case sparked a wave of further revelations, implicating not just Hoyzer, but several other referees and a number of players. The shadow it cast ruined careers, led to lengthy jail sentences for Hoyzer and others, and was only really expelled by the resounding success of the 2006 World Cup.

Now, though, it is back. Hoyzer’s contact in the Croatian betting ring by which he was paid was one Ante Šapina. Jailed after the Hoyzer case,  Šapina allegedly went on to manipulate even more games after his release, and was eventually sentenced for a second time in May 2011. Match fixing is not limited to one Calciopoli or one Robert Hoyzer. Rather, it is a constant and unrelenting threat to the integrity of football.

In the aftermath of the Hoyzer case, there was a sense that this was the scandal to end all scandals. TV journalist Jörg Wontorra went as far as to say “I don’t think it will ever happen again. In that respect, we’re different to the Italians.”

It is a comment which beautifully illustrates the widespread if not unanimous complacency around match fixing which Platini finds so disturbing. The idea that match fixing is more likely to happen in Italy than in Germany is as ridiculous as the idea that it is more likely to happen in Germany than England. If the scope of Europol’s discoveries have taught us one thing, it is that this a disease which transcends all boundaries, and seeps into any and every football nation it possibly can.

As for Germany, we can only hope that the authorities and the national game deals with this crisis in the same way it deals with its other issues. The maturity of debate around fan violence and hooliganism in Germany is unique among European countries, and the willingness of the German game to face problems head on, rather than sweep them under the carpet, is one reason why it is currently so attractive. This, however, will surely prove to be its biggest battle yet.

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