Matt Scott: UEFA’s oversight on Olympiacos has opened dangerous ground

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Juvenal, Satires

“Who watches the watchmen?” This question, first posed by classical writers thousands of years ago, is perhaps one we would do well to ask ourselves now, as civil liberties hard won in the second millennium are gradually eroded in the third.

Still, this is a column about football, and it pains me to say that there is cause to ask the same question of our game today. I recently wrote here about what I saw as the unsuitability of Gianni Infantino for the FIFA president’s position [see related article below]. Last Friday he won the vote to be elected, fair and square, after a very effective and impressive campaign.

The night before that election I had sent out a reminder on social media to the voters in the FIFA member associations that Olympiacos, a club involved in two separate criminal-corruption inquiries in the Greek justice system, had nevertheless been allowed in to European competition by Infantino’s UEFA.

In one of these criminal inquiries, the club’s president and owner, Evangelos Marinakis, is accused of being the boss of an organised-crime ring known as ‘The System’, which allegedly fixes matches in Greek football in order to guarantee Olympiacos victory. He is personally accused of ordering the bombing of the business premises belonging to a FIFA referee in the Greek league who had refused to do what The System had told him to do, which, when you think about it, is really quite chilling.

Olympiacos have won 17 of the last 19 titles and currently sit 18 points clear at the top of the Super League, having dropped only five points in their 24 games this campaign. But when I tweeted my reminder to FIFA voters, even I could not have anticipated what would happen during Olympiacos’s Europa League match against Anderlecht in Piraeus that very night.

Over the 90 minutes of that match there were so many questionable refereeing decisions that went in Olympiacos’s favour that the Belgian match commentator for RTL Sport felt obliged to question the integrity of the match officials. Having spoken out during the match commentary, and having slept on it, he was asked the following day if he thought the refereeing had been deliberately dodgy. “At the beginning, no, honestly at the start, no. The first few decisions were tough to take but you think it’s possible for him to have got them wrong,” said Delire.

“But then, when they all went the same way and they were just so flagrant, you had a doubt. And that became a suspicion. A suspicion that became, ‘OK, now there’s something that’s not right.’ And let’s not forget that there is precedent involving Olympiacos, precedents that have been proven, phenomena of corruption, [with allegations that] they have bought four Greek-league titles… this referee was very, very doubtful.”

Insideworldfootball tried to contact the referee, Northern Ireland’s Arnold Hunter, on Monday to put these allegations to him via the Irish Football Association’s communications director, Neil Brittain, but he has not returned the voicemail.

So what has this got to do with FIFA’s new president? Well, rather a lot. Infantino was the general secretary of UEFA when Olympiacos were waved in to this season’s European competitions. This matters because the investigations arm of UEFA’s disciplinary processes is controlled from within the general secretary’s office.

And the investigation it carried out into the match-fixing allegations at Olympiacos was, frankly, slapdash. It consisted of a letter to the Hellenic Football Federation – the local FA – several of whose highest officials are themselves at the centre of the criminal investigations before the Athens courts, and it wrote back to say, basically, ‘Nothing to see here.’

Rather than pursue the matter more forcefully, UEFA chose to see nothing. I asked Infantino about this at the glitzy launch of his presidential campaign at Wembley. I asked how he could be satisfied with an investigation that was so appallingly vague, how the world could possibly have faith in his FIFA reforms when his own organisation had such a poor record on ethics. His answer was, well, appallingly vague. (And too rambling to insert here, although James Corbett from SportingIntelligence.com has diligently transcribed the tape in full, and from that I’ve taken the excerpt of my exchange with Infantino and pasted it below in case it is of interest.)

What Infantino did say in response to my question as to why the Olympiacos allegations were not prosecuted fully by UEFA is: “In Greece there is an investigation into the president of the club. That’s all. There is no conviction, no decision, not enough.”

The fact of the matter is, though, that there is plenty for UEFA to have gone on. Infantino is claiming that there needs to be a criminal conviction – on the basis of proof beyond reasonable doubt – before UEFA may act. But as he very well knows, there needs to be nothing of the sort: UEFA need only be “comfortably satisfied” that a club has been involved in match fixing to exclude them.

Here are the UEFA statutes on the matter: “If, on the basis of all the factual circumstances and information available to UEFA, UEFA concludes to its comfortable satisfaction that a club has been directly and/or indirectly involved since April 2007 in any activity aimed at arranging or influencing the outcome of a match at national or international level, UEFA will declare such club ineligible to participate in the competition.”

Infantino has a law degree and of course he knows his own statutes. What he told me was at best disingenuous and deliberately misleading. Infantino went on to tell me he had personally referred the Greek match-fixing case to the independent ethics and disciplinary committee but that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a case against Olympiacos, which is true.

But the committee’s ruling was inevitable because the report sent from Infantino’s own office was so knowingly inadequate that the disciplinary committee never was going to have grounds to ban Olympiacos. I know this, because I have read the correspondence between the inspector appointed by Infantino’s department and the Greek FA and it cries out for further inquiry. Yet Infantino wilfully chose not to demand this deeper investigation despite the egregious risk to UEFA competitions the Champions League and the Europa League, both of which Olympiacos have played in this season.

The dangerousness of that decision was underlined by what happened before the Anderlecht match last Thursday night. About two hours before kick-off, around 200 Olympiacos ultras on motorbikes disrupted the journey taken by the Anderlecht bus to the Karaiskakis stadium. Then upon its arrival, 2,000 of them hurled bottles, stones and sticks at the bus. No one knows what would have happened had the attack been allowed to continue unabated – police only brought things to a halt by firing tear gas into the mob to disperse it. Eleven policemen were injured in the clashes that followed and the incidents are currently being looked at by prosecutors. This, by any measure, is simply not what football is about.

Perhaps Infantino may now think these matters behind him as he is of course no longer the general secretary of UEFA but the president of FIFA instead. But they are not. For the man who has stepped in to Infantino’s shoes as UEFA general secretary is his erstwhile deputy, Theodore Theodoridis. A former director of international relations, Theodoridis is a master of networking and was in large part responsible for getting Infantino elected at FIFA last week.

What is more, Theodoridis is a former board member of the Hellenic Football Federation whose former president and former legal counsel are on bail on corruption charges. The new UEFA general secretary is also the son of Savvas Theodoridis, who is the vice-president of a major Greek club. The club? Olympiacos.

Doesn’t look good does it? Quis custodiet indeed.

The exchange I had with Infantino at his FIFA-presidential press conference on February 1:

I’m interested that after seven years as the General Secretary of UEFA, its ethics department remains within UEFA, is not independent of UEFA, it’s in your department. Now one of the investigations that wasn’t fully prosecuted by UEFA was into the allegations of match fixing at Olympiacos, when your deputy secretary general’s father is vice-president of that club. How can we have faith in your reform process when this is part of your legacy at UEFA?

Thanks for the question. Let me say at the outset that the ethics and disciplinary committee at UEFA is independent; it’s not a UEFA department. The committee is independent and we have respected lawyers and judges who are part of this committee. I think in general that no organisation in the world has had such a track record against match fixing as UEFA. No organisation in the world! We have been creating since 2009 a betting fraud detection system. We have been creating a network into the financing of 54 integrity officers all around Europe, one per country working with the police in creating a database. We have created a working group of all the prosecutors in Europe who are working on match fixing and they need UEFA to speak with each other and deal with these matters. We have been excluding clubs, big clubs; we’ve been excluding players, we’ve been excluding referees. Our disciplinary bodies have been doing this. Not me, not the administration; I’ve received threats, live threats, against me, against my family, because UEFA was acting against match fixing. It’s not my decision. I had to have a police escort for my children because of the actions of UEFA in match fixing. The Olympiacos case when I – as general secretary of UEFA – received the case, I gave it to the ethics disciplinary body. They looked into the matter and decided there’s not enough evidence and have provisionally Olympiacos.

Are you satisfied that the investigation, because I’ve read –

They are independent. We wait for CAS. CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, confirmed this decision. They say provisionally, for the moment, and this is different to the Turkish cases for example, in Turkey you had convictions; people went to jail. In Greece there is an investigation into the president of the club. That’s all. There is no conviction, no decision, not enough. UEFA bodies respect the Court of Arbitration for Sport decision in the Besiktas case, for example, you can read all these things you can read as well, you have to be particularly careful if there is no decision taken at national level. Fenerbahce played one year. They qualified for the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2011-12 and after that were suspended by UEFA. These investigations they take time. It’s not like doping where you can decide doped or not doped. Match fixing doesn’t have a test that says fixed or not fixed. If and when there’s proof all the clubs that are involved in match fixing will be suspended as they have always been.

Related article: http://www.insideworldfootball.com/matt-scott/18679-matt-scott-infantino-has-not-got-uefa-s-house-in-order-so-why-let-him-into-fifa-house

Journalist and broadcaster Matt Scott wrote the Digger column for The Guardian newspaper for five years and is now a columnist for Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1537571022labto1537571022ofdlr1537571022owedi1537571022sni@t1537571022tocs.1537571022ttam1537571022.