DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The European Club Association has agreed to expel members who have fixed football matches, just days after European police agency Europol issued a report showing the problem was widespread.
The 200-member ECA, meeting in Qatar, approved on Wednesday the measure that also allows it to kick clubs out for doping or racism. In the past, it only warned clubs for such behavior.
The clubs felt it was "their duty" to act, ECA general secretary Michele Centenaro said, and he did not say whether the move was in response to a report from Europol on Monday that said more than 380 matches were suspicious, including Word Cup and European Championship qualifiers and two Champions League games.
"Before, it was sort of a warning, and now it is a duty and commitment we ask of our clubs," Centenaro told The Associated Press. "We are a responsible organization and we feel our members are committed to certain values and ... we defend those values. We felt it was our duty to do this as an association."
But the Turkish club Fenerbache, an ECA member, illustrates the limits of such actions.
Centenaro says the new regulation would not apply to Fenerbahce which was embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim was convicted and sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison on match-fixing charges. But the Turkish Football Federation cleared all 16 Turkish teams of involvement in the alleged match-fixing scandal on grounds that there was no evidence that alleged attempts to fix games altered the course of 22 matches tainted by the allegations.
Centenaro also said the ECA will be issuing a report by March on ways to combat match-fixing, which will have concrete proposals such as requiring all players to sign a document acknowledging the rules and the risk involved in fixing matches.
But he and other top ECA officials said the clubs cannot combat the problem alone, noting they do not have the power of governments and police to investigate criminal syndicates. They also said the Europol report has to be kept in perspective.
AC Milan director Umberto Gandini, also the first vice chairman of ECA, played down the Europol report, noting the 380 matches were among 200,000 played during that time in Europe. He acknowledged match-fixing was "a huge problem" but argued the sport wasn't in danger.
"I don't want to diminish importance of such inquiries in place (but) we have to be very, very careful," Gandini said. "Most important for us is to protect the game and the integrity game. ... For our part as club managers and executives, we are doing our best to try and avoid and keep this under control. But obviously it's a big fight. It's a fight against criminal organizations. It's not something that football clubs can do by themselves. We really need government and state authorities to step in and help us find the right decisions."
Meanwhile, the Asian Football Confederation reaffirmed its commitment on Wednesday to fight match-fixing following allegations that a Singapore-based crime syndicate has been involved in fixing matches around the world.
"We are closely following the news reports which have suggested that Asia is one of the continents where the suspicious matches took place," AFC General Secretary Alex Soosay said in a statement. "AFC has a zero-tolerance policy toward unethical practices in football and we are determined to fight against any kind of irregularities that include and are not limited to match-fixing, corruption and illegal betting in the game."