Corruption is widespread within the Cypriot recreation regardless of progress within the Champions League.
Omonia president Antonis Tzionis sits quietly in his chair within the workplaces of the Cypriot membership. Though not naturally a quiet man, he is aware of that a phrase misplaced may price him one other €5,000.
In December he made the declare that Cypriot soccer was “dishonest” and dogged by “filth, stench, nepotism, cronyism and corruption”.
The sport, mentioned Tzionis, was managed by betting exercise and corruption, and there’s no freedom of speech. In response, he was fined €5,000 by the Cyprus Soccer Affiliation (CFA) for bringing the sport into disrepute.
For a recreation that, lately, has – on the pitch, no less than – punched above its weight for an island of simply 1.1million individuals, these are startling claims.
Since Anorthosis Famagusta turned the primary Cypriot facet to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League, in 2008-09, AEK, AEL and Apollon have all reached the Europa League group section.
The island’s largest membership, APOEL, have certified for the Europa League or Champions League group stage 5 occasions within the final eight seasons, and in 2011-12 they went on a surprising run to the Champions League quarter-finals, beating Zenit, Porto and Lyon earlier than shedding to Actual Madrid.
Former Barcelona junior Urko Pardo joined APOEL at the beginning of that season and has been there ever since. “Cyprus is a land of alternative for gamers like me who didn’t get within the first staff at residence,” says the 33-year-old goalkeeper. “Twenty years in the past, they’d have needed to drop into the third division, now they’ll come right here and succeed.”
Former England under-21 worldwide Matt Derbyshire joined Omonia from Rotherham United at the beginning of this season. An instantaneous hit, he’s the Cypriot recreation’s largest star and was the First Division’s high scorer on the midway stage.
Just like the Portuguese and Spaniards who make up many of the abroad inflow, Derbyshire’s transfer was very easy as Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, thus guaranteeing freedom of motion.
Golf equipment are anticipated to incorporate no less than two Cypriot gamers of their beginning XI and are fined €1,500 for every lacking participant, so fielding 11 foreigners prices golf equipment €Three,000 a recreation. However this makes no affect on chairmen like Andreas Karapatakis of AEK Larnaca.
“We get fined most weeks,” says Karapatakis, who ignores the rule because of the price of wages for Cypriot gamers.
In the meantime, the variety of abroad gamers continues to develop.
CIES analysis in 2016 confirmed 65.Four per cent of gamers in Cyprus had been international. The Pancyprian footballers’ union (PASP) places the determine increased, at 86 per cent, and says yearly two thirds of the gamers in Cyprus depart the island.
PASP president Spyros Neofitides is an outspoken determine in Cypriot soccer and has constantly tried to sort out the corruption. Like Omonia president
Tzionis, Neofitides has additionally been fined €5,000 by the CFA for talking out.
“This season has been distinctive,” says Neofitides, who’s a former goalkeeper. “We’ve seen some unusual outcomes from the beginning of the season.”
Unusual outcomes should not unusual, however followers are rising weary. Omonia declare its attendances have halved. APOEL have eight,500 season-ticket holders however supporters more and more favour extra credible European video games.
Christos Zavallis from the APOEL Supporters Belief says: “It’s to the advantage of the entire league for this to cease. If you wish to appeal to gamers, it makes it harder.”
With cash from TV, crowds and UEFA, First Division golf equipment are capable of run full-time squads.
APOEL are the largest payers, whereas AEK and Omonia pay their gamers between €80,000 and €150,000 a 12 months – though truly getting paid has been a constant drawback. And that has enabled criminals to use an atmosphere the place match fixing has at all times existed.
“The soil right here is fertile,” admits Professor Nicos Kartakoullis, a revered tutorial from the College of Nicosia and the youngest chairman of the Cyprus Sports activities Organisation till quitting in 2011 in sheer frustration.
Throughout the Greek Civil Conflict, from 1946-49, APOEL requested gamers to signal affiliation to the right-wing Greek authorities. Some gamers give up and left to type their very own membership and people political divides stay.
APOEL stay the staff of the appropriate., bitter rivals Omonia are the staff of the left, whereas the likes of Nea Salamis Famagusta additionally appeal to left-leaning help. Matches was mounted for political achieve; now it’s cash – and the issue is spiralling uncontrolled.
Latest PASP analysis exhibits that 40.5 per cent of gamers in Cypriot skilled soccer are conscious of match fixing, and 17.2 per cent have been approached. In 20 per cent of the circumstances, gamers are approached both throughout a recreation or a staff assembly.
With no minimal wage, some gamers might be on as little as €50 a month, notably if their membership drops into the second division.
Earlier PASP analysis confirmed that 65 per cent of gamers fixing video games are doing so due to delayed funds. In response, the CFA started checking funds. The issue stays larger exterior within the decrease leagues however nonetheless impacts the First Division.
In 2015, the CFA launched new measures to cease the fixing, beginning with a €5,000 advantageous for the primary incident and rising to €10,000 for a second, with relegation for third-time offenders. The measures, nonetheless, didn’t work.
What are often called “purple envelopes” from UEFA, notifying the CFA about video games attracting suspiciously excessive ranges of betting exercise, poured into Nicosia within the first half of this season.
A Four-Zero win by Apollon Limassol over AEZ Zakakiou on September 11 was the primary to be flagged up by UEFA. A Three-Zero win by APOEL over Aris Limassol on September 25 was subsequent and the purple envelopes saved on coming.
In November, UEFA’s head of integrity, Emilio Garcia, arrived unexpectedly on the island intent on motion.
UEFA’s place on match fixing has been strengthened since Albanian champions Skenderbeu had been thrown out of this season’s Champions League after suspiciously excessive ranges of betting exercise.
UEFA vice-president Marios Lefkaritis warned the CFA that the European physique would take motion in opposition to Cypriot golf equipment subsequent. However the truth that Lefkaritis, who preceded Costakis Koutsokoumnis as CFA president, ought to take a stand in opposition to corruption was bitterly ironic.
Lefkaritis was a member of the FIFA Government Committee within the notorious vote that determined the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts. In 2015, German firm ARD TV screened allegations that Petrolina holdings, an organization owned by Lefkaritis, did a cope with Russian oil and gasoline firm Gazprom simply two days earlier than the vote.
Lefkaritis additionally bought land to Qatari firms for $32m however, after being confronted, he denied the Gazprom deal till being proven proof of his involvement, after which he claimed Gazprom had been “not companions however his clients”.
With Lefkaritis threatening Cypriot sides with exclusion from UEFA competitors, the CFA launched new measures in December 2016.
Now a primary “purple envelope” incurs a six-point deduction and a €50,000 advantageous.
A second warning brings fast expulsion for the membership for the remainder of the season. Three-time offenders will probably be banned from all CFA competitions for 5 years and fined €1m.
For the reason that new guidelines, there was no purple envelopes and the fixing has stopped – for now. And whereas the specter of critical monetary penalties might have labored, many golf equipment stay in a fragile place.
In 2013, Omonia had been saved from collapse solely after followers raised €Three.5m.
The identical 12 months, Anorthosis, who earned €6.5m from the Champions League alone in 2008-09, practically went beneath after accumulating money owed of €13.5m. They’re nonetheless up on the market.
AEK not too long ago opened a brand new €8m stadium which was the primary constructed by a Cypriot membership with personal funds, however most golf equipment play in rented grounds, with APOEL and Omonia, for instance, sharing the GSP Stadium in Nicosia.
“APOEL haven’t invested the UEFA cash and don’t have anything to point out for it,” says Zavallis.
Greater golf equipment similar to APOEL and Omonia should not usually considered implicated in match fixing, apart from by taking part in in opposition to groups who’ve been corrupted.
The issue, most individuals in Cypriot soccer agree, has been exacerbated by the CFA’s determination halfway by the 2014-15 season to increase the First Division from 12 to 14 groups.
On the finish of that season, one staff was relegated and one other disqualified, and 4 groups had been promoted from the second tier. In August 2015, Koutsokoumnis was re-elected CFA president for a seventh consecutive time period till 2019.
The league now splits at Christmas, with the underside two instantly relegated. The highest six chase European locations, and the following six sides play off to keep away from another relegation spot.
Critics argue that there are too many matches of no significance involving smaller golf equipment, who in some circumstances have nearly no help. These golf equipment are usually those beneath suspicion. In Federbet’s annual “Fastened Matches” report for 2016, three of 4 Cypriot video games cited as “suspicious” concerned Aris Limassol.
And whereas the purple envelopes might have stopped for now, the culprits are at massive and issues nonetheless stay.
After AEZ Zakakiou drew Three-Three at Karmiotissa on December 16 with an injury-time objective, the automotive of visiting assistant coach Alexis Garpozis was bombed exterior his home. A fireplace was additionally set off on the canteen of a five-a-side operation belonging to AEZ coach Demetris Demetriou.
“It’s loopy, one thing has to alter,” says Professor Kartakoullis. “Individuals are laughing at us. It’s humiliating, as individuals in Cyprus are loopy for soccer.
“On the finish of the day you are feeling silly. Why would you spend €20 going to a recreation when you already know it might be mounted? Soccer in Cyprus is at an alarming stage.”
Now, in the end, the Cypriot authorities is getting concerned.
“I get drained,” says weary union boss Neofitides. “The change within the legislation is our final probability. If this doesn’t occur, then anybody can repair a match in Cyprus.”
The federal government has drafted laws on sports activities integrity to permit Cypriot police to watch personal communications, together with telephones and emails, however how that can work with encrypted communication similar to WhatsApp stays unclear.
“Individuals may simply purchase a SIM card in a mini market,” says Mario Panayi, a former Cypriot referee and one other outspoken critic of the corruption on the island.
In 2015, Panayi convened a press convention and made broadly revealed allegations about corruption in any respect ranges of Cypriot soccer.
In response to sources in Cyprus, there was a 48-hour hole between Panayi making his allegations to police and a raid on the CFA’s workplaces. No info was subsequently discovered, leaving Panayi trying silly and elevating suspicions that onerous drives had been cleaned up within the intervening interval.
Getting the CFA to answer this or different allegations is troublesome as emails and letters to the media division and even direct to Koutsokoumnis go unanswered.
And Koutsokoumnis has good motive for preserving his head down as he stands for election to FIFA’s Government Council in April.
Properly regarded in soccer’s higher echelons, he mediated for FIFA in disputes between Israel and Palestine in 2014, and extra not too long ago between the Greek affiliation and the federal government. However at house is more and more beneath fireplace – actually, within the case of the Limassol workplaces of his firm, Minerva Insurance coverage, which had been bombed simply earlier than Christmas.
In the meantime, Panayi had one other explosive shock in retailer for Koutsokoumnis. The documentation that he despatched to police in 2015, allegedly exhibiting proof of CFA corruption, was discounted due to how he obtained it, however he has extra.
In January 2017, Panayi despatched additional documentation to the Cypriot police, and if that is ignored he’ll contact Interpol earlier than the FIFA vote in April.
And that isn’t the one shock the embattled Koutsokoumnis faces.
Again in Omonia’s workplaces, Antonis Tzionis lastly speaks. He has an answer to the corruption and desires the highest golf equipment to separate from the CFA. Though such a seismic transfer can be troublesome because the CFA controls the TV cash, Tzionis feels that for the largest 10 golf equipment to run their very own league is the one reply.
By Steve Menary