Region taking stand against corruption in football

14/04/2014

After years riddled with scandal, officials are taking steps to end corruption and crime in football.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 14/04/14

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Turkish football team Fenerbahce was banned from European competitions by UEFA in July 2011 after the club was found to be connected with a match-fixing scheme. [AFP]

The recent verdicts in the trial of eight Romanian football officials marks a new beginning for the region's sports industry, as authorities institute measures to end shady practices in this sector, officials and analysts said.

In early March, eight managers, club owners and former football players, including Gica Popescu, former international and FC Barcelona football icon, were sentenced to a total of 35 years in prison for tax evasion and money laundering.

The verdict shocked the Romanian football community, but to many it marked a turning point for a sport that has long been regarded as replete with corruption.

"This verdict will be a reference point in the history of Romanian football," Adi Dobre, an associate commentator with Eurosport, told SETimes.

"The verdict is an implicit admission that corruption has been governing Romanian football for 24 years, but, at the same time, is a warning that things will not be as they used to be before, that graft in sports will no longer be tolerated."

Romanian football has been going through a process of reform which started last year with a change of leadership in the Professional Football League and last month at the Romanian Football Federation, which had not seen a change in authority since 1990.

The change at the helm of the two football associations is seen as a step forward in ensuring transparency in local football, especially concerning TV broadcasting rights, an important financial source which has always been wrapped in controversy. Also, the new leaders seek to limit to two the number of terms one can hold in such positions.

Other regional countries are also taking steps to eliminate corruption and crime from their sport sectors. The reputation of football in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has also been affected for years by damaging scandals related to crime and corruption, Dino Selimović, the director of football club Sarajevo, said, adding that his club is taking measures to make the sport more transparent.

"FC Sarajevo started a campaign against corruption, crime and set-ups in football in BiH, Selimovic told SETimes.

"At the assembly of the European Club Association we received clear instructions on how we should behave and what to do. We were very pleased to receive support from citizens, sports workers and other clubs, as well as members of the Executive Committee of the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This means that we will not be alone in this fight."

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Turkish football team Fenerbahce was banned from European competitions by UEFA in July 2011 after the club was found to be connected with a match-fixing scheme. [AFP]

In 2011, the state court of BiH convicted former BiH Football Federation Secretary-General Munib Usanovic and financial secretary Miodrag Kureš of tax evasion, illegal misappropriation of federation funds and abuse of office between 2001 and 2006.

They were each sentenced to four years in jail and were ordered to repay almost 300,000 euros. In order to prevent tax evasion in the football sector, the Croatian government recently proposed a law that would require all sport clubs, church and non-profit organisations that make financial transactions higher than 30,000 euros to pay taxes.

The law also introduces an obligation for all non-profit organisations to submit financial statements at the end of the year.

"The law was adopted in the government and we are waiting for the parliament to adopt it. The parliament discussion on this law is on-going," Sanja Bach, a spokesperson for the finance ministry, told SETimes. Turkey's football sector has also dealt with many corruption cases over the past few years, especially match-fixing and bribery.

UEFA banished Turkish teams Fenerbahce and its rival Besiktas from European competitions in July 2011 after they were found to be connected with a match-fixing scheme. Many high-profile people, including Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim, were convicted and sentenced.

In order to leverage control over the sector, new legislation has been proposed in parliament. The law on sport clubs would regulate the transparency and accountability of the country's football teams.

In a bid to bring stricter regulations over match-fixing, the bill stipulates a lifetime ban on club managers from holding positions in the sector after being found guilty of match-fixing.

But, Ahmet Talimciler, a sport sociologist and scholar at Ege University, said that since 2011, there has been no meaningful step in Turkey toward making the sport environment more transparent, accountable and clean.

"Criminal organisations created to derive ill-gotten gains are contaminating football and its innocent universe by interfering with match results," Talimciler wrote in an article for Today's Zaman.

"It is really frustrating to read in the indictment how football teams, which fans follow with blind enthusiasm, and team directors resort to illegal means to achieve success and economic benefits."

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He said there is a trend in the Balkan countries where wealthy people transfer money to football clubs through club administrations, which opens the way for corruption scandals in the sport environment.

"The corporate structure of the football clubs should be re-arranged in line with the judicial structure and the ideological relations between politics and football should be decrypted," Talimciler told SETimes.

Correspondents Drazen Remikovic in Zagreb, Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo and Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul contributed to this report.

What measures need to be taken to improve the transparency of the sport sector in your country? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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