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By Roger Blitz in London
The fight against match-fixing in European football, rocked by arrests at the Italian national team’s training ground last week, has suffered a fresh blow with the resignation of its anti-corruption chief after only a year in the job.
Pierre Cornu, chief legal counsel for integrity and regulatory affairs, will leave his post after the Euro 2012 tournament, which begins on Friday, Uefa, European football’s governing body, has confirmed.
His departure follows the resignation earlier this year of the head of security for Fifa, the sport’s world governing body.
Gianni Infantino, Uefa’s general secretary, denied Mr Cornu’s departure was linked to his role in Uefa’s decision in September to ban FC Sion from European competition for fielding ineligible players, a ruling challenged in the courts by the Swiss team.
“It is for family reasons,” Mr Infantino said.
But Declan Hill, a writer on sports corruption who has advised Uefa and the European Commission on match-fixing, described Mr Cornu’s impending departure as “a bad joke that exposes the hollowness of the words of the sports world”.
Mr Cornu set up a network of anti-corruption officers across Europe’s national football associations to monitor the increasing instances of match-fixing on the continent.
Uefa does not publish a tally of match-fixing cases, but Mr Hill said there were 24 police investigations in Europe. A survey of more than 3,000 east European players by FifPro, the world player’s union, found 12 per cent had been approached to fix matches.
Uefa also has a betting fraud detection system to monitor any irregular betting patterns across its 1,800 matches and 28,000 domestic fixtures in Europe. It spends €5m a year to counter match-fixing.
But Mr Infantino called on police forces across Europe to help Uefa tackle the scourge. “We are not James Bond or the FBI. We depend on the help of the police authorities,” he said.
He also called on all European governments to recognise that match-fixing was a crime, a demand echoed by a study for the European Commission. But he added that a global sports anti-corruption agency similar to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which combats drug cheating in sport, was not the answer.
“You can do a test for doping, but you can’t test if a match is fixed or not,” Mr Infantino said.
Uefa may now use Mr Cornu’s departure to review its anti-corruption strategy, according to a person close to the organisation’s leadership.
It is reliant not just on police authorities but on national football associations taking tough action – some of whom have proved reluctant to do so, despite pressure from Michel Platini, Uefa president. Players found guilty of match-fixing should never play football again, Mr Platini said at a press conference in Warsaw on Wednesday.
Although the latest match-fixing arrests involving Serie A clubs have further sullied Italy’s footballing reputation, one former sports minister attributed the latest scandal to the reluctance of the country’s football authorities to impose strong enough sanctions. The scale of the problem was highlighted by Mario Monti, prime minister, who suggested the whole of Italian football should be suspended for up to three years.
Turkey’s football federation has courted controversy by taking no action of its own against clubs allegedly involved in a match-fixing scandal that that has named 90 people as suspects. An Istanbul prosecutor last week called for a sentence of up to 39 years against Aziz Yildirim, chairman of Fenerbahce, Turkey’s largest club.
The federation’s inaction against Mr Yildirim and clubs, and its relatively minor bans imposed on a clutch of players and club officials, appears to follow the advice of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s powerful prime minister, who said individuals rather than clubs should be punished over alleged match-fixing.
Mr Hill said: “Match-fixing is the most serious threat to the credibility of sports. Now we have the third ‘chief of integrity’ purportedly fighting against this threat to leave either FIFA or UEFA in the last year. The sports officials say all the right things, but seem more interested in their next high-sounding title or pay-packet then actually fighting corruption.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Istanbul and Guy Dinmore in Rome
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