RIGA - What began as accusations of match-fixing may now escalate into a formal investigation.
Weeks after the eagerly anticipated Latvia-Russia game, which ended in a 1-1 tie, the Russian Football Federation is debating whether or not to seek redress against Latvian soccer captain Vitalijs Astafjevs, who told the local media Russian interests offered large sums of cash to throw last month's World Championships qualifying match.
Astafjevs, who scored Latvia's only goal, has since said that his comments were misinterpreted and possibly mistranslated in the Aug. 23 edition of Sporta Avize. The interview took place in Russian and was translated into Latvian.
Meanwhile, the sports paper has repeatedly denied claims that the interview was mistranslated.
"They weren't just talks. It was bribery from the Russian side 's they offered money so that we would lose the game," Astafjevs supposedly told the newspaper. The captain declined to specify how large the bribe was, but said it was "impressive."
The following day he confirmed the charge of match-fixing to the Russian language paper Telegraf.
Russian soccer authorities were quick to denounce the accusation and demanded evidence, while the Latvian Football Federation distanced itself from Astafjevs' statements.
Once the burden of proof began to weigh heavily on the star captain, he tried to put a spin on his own words, saying that he had been asked about rumors in the original interview.
"I replied that I had heard such rumors. But I uttered not a word more. All further comments on that score are speculations by the Latvian reporter," Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted the footballer as saying.
The Russian side has reportedly turned to FIFA, the sport's international governing body, as recourse against the allegations.
Latvian Football Federation officials, surprised by Astafjevs' claims, responded unequivocally to media inquiries with denial, and writing a letter of explanation to Russia.
The story has received heavy coverage by the Russian media, not to mention international news agencies.
Though a citizen of Latvia, Vitalijs Astafjevs is an ethnic Russian.
Astafjevs, who plays in the Russian league for Kazan Rubin, has since written a letter of apology to the Russian team. However, this gesture has so far failed to satisfy the nation's soccer elite and fans.
In his letter, reprinted on the Russian Football Federation Web site, Astafjevs responded to journalists' questions about rumors of bribery by saying that he had only heard of such allegations.
"I didn't mean to accuse anyone," Astafjevs wrote. He did not intend to cause an international conflict between the two countries, he added.
Astafjevs also apologized to all Russian fans and to Vitaly Mutko, president of the Russian Football Federation in the letter.
"Apologies are apologies, but we are not going to forgive something like that," Vitaly Mutko told the Gazeta.ru Web site. "If we discover that Astafjevs really said what was written in the newspaper, we will insist that he be punished," he continued.
The Russian Football Federation has reportedly asked Sporta Avize for a tape recording of the interview, but the newspaper has so far declined, arguing that the interview is available in the paper.
The daily Diena cited unconfirmed reports that estimated the alleged bribe at $2 million.
As a result of the game's draw, neither team will be a strong contender to advance to the World Cup. Russia will have to win its two remaining matches in order to qualify.