Scandal threatens Juventus

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

For the next six weeks, soccer's World Cup will capture the attention of most of this planet.

Even in North America, where for three years and 11 months or so, professional soccer ranks right up there as an attention-grabber with professional bowling, the great lumberjack challenge and demolition derby, the interest level ratchets up to noticeable.

While the rest of the world understands the passion of the sport, the intricacies, the beauty of the game and the great talent of those who play it, our little world focuses on hooliganism and whatever other oddities happen in soccer as an excuse to ignore it.

The latest oddity making world headlines involves one of the world's most famous teams. Juventus of the Italian Serie A division is involved in a game-fixing scandal that could cost Juventus its past two league championships and might see it demoted to Serie C. That would be like making the great Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s play in the East Coast Hockey League.

So what, you say?

Heed the message. What happened in Italy can happen anywhere.

In Italy, it involved referees, player agents, even the media.

The scandal is centred on Juventus and former general manager Luciano Moggi. He and the entire Juventus board resigned recently and the team faces possible relegation just weeks after winning its record 29th Serie A title. A.C. Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina have also been implicated.

Wiretaps have been released in which Moggi arranges with the assignor of officials to have specific referees and linesmen work his team's games.

The media has also been involved. A well-known soccer television personality resigned after more than 20 years when it was discovered he was told by Moggi to be positive to Juventus, no matter what the situation, and to be critical of specific officials. That's what he did.

The fans thought they were getting a longtime expert giving them the real goods. What they were getting instead was someone in the team's back pocket that cared more about being in with the team than being faithful to his viewers.

Juventus is a powerful squad with powerful people with plenty of money running it. It's not difficult to exert pressure on people to get positive media.

This is what happens when those powerful people aren't satisfied with running their own team but expect everyone to give in to their wishes.

I see you shaking your heads out there, thinking "Ah, it could never happen in North America."

Want to bet?

Don't you think the Italians read about the bribery scandals in Germany and the Far East and said "It could never happen in Italy?"

Of course they did. They didn't see it coming, either.

How often have you heard a coach or general manager of a North American hockey, football or baseball team complain about officials? You don't think they don't call the guy in charge of officials and tell him they never want to see that official again, especially when that referee makes a critical call the coach or manager doesn't like?

How often have you heard team officials complain about "the media?"

No "incentives" may pass hands but for whatever reason, the pressure works. Quite often that particular official who makes a difficult call will never see that particular team again.

Great care must be taken to prevent the erosion of independence. This happened in Italy because there were no checks and balances, because those running the sport got too close and benefitted from those playing the sport.

We in North America may not be close to this type of scandal ... yet. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from it.

What happened in Italy, didn't happen overnight.


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