The ugly game

  • 2005-08-24
The captain of Latvia's national football team has just turned the sport, at least in this part of the world, on its head. In an interview with a sports newspaper this week, Vitalijs Astafjevs stated flatly that a group of Russians tried to bribe the Latvian club so that the latter would lose the Aug. 17 World Cup qualifier in Riga.

Sporta Avize quoted him as saying: "It was not just rumor. It was an attempted bribery on the part of the Russians 's they offered us money on condition that we lose the game." Further on, he added, "I can only say that money was offered both to the leaders of the Latvian Football Federation and some players contacted by the Russian representatives."

Astafjevs, who scored Latvia's goal in the 1:1 draw against the Russians, has just opened up Pandora's box. Those he mentioned will go on the defensive and demand the accuser provide detailed evidence, which ostensibly the soccer captain won't be able to provide. Considering the sheer size of the accused 's the Russian Football Federation 's he has slim chance of winning. He has definitely ruined his reputation in certain soccer circles, and he just might have harmed his career irreparably.

Indeed, Astafjev's only hope is that his fellow players and top Latvian soccer officials will support him. But it is unlikely to happen. Guntis Indriksons, president of the Latvian Football Federation, was quick to say he knew nothing of such bribe offers. Another federation official said it was the first time he had heard anything about an offer to buy a soccer game in Latvia.

Some may call Astafjevs' confession naive, or even foolhardy, but we think it was courageous. World football is rife with corruption, as anyone who has followed international sport headlines over the past year will know. In Germany, prosecutors have investigated some 25 people 's referees and players 's in connection with a dozen rigged games last year. Referee Robert Hoyzer admitted to fixing four matches after receiving a whopping 67,000 euros from a Croatian betting syndicate. The chairman of Porto was arrested last year on match-fixing charges as part of a wide investigation into corrupt sports in Portugal. In Greece, prosecutors investigated alleged match-fixing in a UEFA Cup match between Panionios and Dinamo Tblisi.

Around the globe 's from Germany to Africa 's football is corrupt from top to bottom. The beautiful game has become an ugly one, and Astafjevs' statement this week only confirmed what most people suspected. Hopefully, he won't suffer the hypocrites who will start attacking him and will be able to finish his career honorably. For soccer authorities, if Astafjevs' comments do not lead to a criminal investigation, then at least they can serve as a wake-up for all to be more vigilant in a sport that has entered a dark era.