UEFA's determination to protect football from the scourge of match-fixing and to punish those found guilty has been emphasised at the European governing body's inaugural regional Integrity Officers seminar in Skopje.
Integrity officers from the national associations of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia joined with UEFA in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's capital to look at the progress of the campaign against match-fixing, examine work being done in the various countries and consider strategies to pursue these efforts into the future.
Following a UEFA Executive Committee decision two years ago, UEFA introduced integrity officers, who are liaison officers between the football authorities and state law enforcement agencies in relation to suspected match-fixing. The integrity officers exchange information and experience with the UEFA administration, monitor disciplinary proceedings and coordinate relevant action, as well as organising education programmes for players, referees and coaches.
UEFA intelligence coordinator Graham Peaker explained UEFA's values to the delegates. "UEFA must protect football from match-fixing," he said. "There is zero tolerance. All football matches must be played in a spirit of fairness and respect, with the outcome determined solely on the merits of the competing teams – the result of the match is to remain uncertain until the match is completed."
Peaker added that match-fixers were individuals who came from the world of organised crime, and that financial reward was their only interest. He described how UEFA investigated match-fixing cases, with guilty players and match officials being punished with bans from exercising any football-related activity. Peaker pointed out that UEFA had banned referees and players from European football for life, and excluded clubs from UEFA competitions.
The integrity officers in Skopje heard that UEFA was giving match-fixing awareness presentations to players, referees, coaches and administrators to warn them of potential dangers if they became involved in match-fixing. UEFA is also working closely with state authorities, and had opened a hotline and reporting platform to enable people to contact UEFA if they had information on match-fixing. "If players, coaches or match officials are found guilty by UEFA of match-fixing, or attempting to fix a match," said Peaker, "they will receive a red card for life." There was a simple "three Rs" message for players and referees: "Recognise what is happening; Reject by saying no; and Report any approach."
UEFA's own integrity officer Urs Kluser insisted that "we cannot let the match-fixers go unpunished". He praised the integrity officers for the high quality of their work and for building strong relationships with the state authorities. "We need [the authorities] to be committed to the problem," Kluser reflected, also encouraging the integrity officers to prepare comprehensive files for police and prosecutors to be able to act. During the seminar, several of the national associations in attendance highlighted their work against match-fixing, and the event provided an invaluable and fruitful means of swapping ideas and advice for the present and the future.
Kluser transmitted the message from UEFA President Michel Platini that match-fixing represented the biggest threat to football. He underlined that football could not afford to ignore the problem, and that every effort would made to raise awareness on all levels – associations, clubs, players and public. "We can also act as a deterrent to those who may already be involved," he said.
UEFA is making funds available annually to each member association to help finance the position of integrity officer. UEFA's integrity officer works alongside the national counterpart, supporting the operation of the network and overseeing intelligence gathering and information exchange.
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