Another Italian Football Scandal

After the high-profile Totonero scandals of the 80′s and the more recent Calciopoli affair, why has match-fixing reared its ugly head in Italy once more?

Italian coach Cesare Prandelli would wave goodbye to Euro 2012 “for the good of football.”

Italy should have entered EURO 2012 with a spring in its step. A rejuvenated Andrea Pirlo inspiring Juventus to a record-breaking unbeaten season in Serie A, with 13 assists to his name. All this just 6 years after The Old Lady were deducted 9 points; stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Scudetto’s and relegated to Serie B for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal.

You would be forgiven for thinking such harsh punishment would be enough to discourage more criminal activity in the higher echelons of Italian football. But you’d be wrong.

Once more, several high-profile players both past and present were arrested in June and December of last year amid allegations of match-fixing. Zenit St. Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito was dropped from Italy’s 23-man squad as investigations into the so-called “Calcioscommesse” affair continue. He claims not to be involved.

Drastic Action

Coach Cesare Prandelli told Italian television, “If you told us (Italy) for the good of football we should not participate (in EURO 2012), it wouldn’t be a problem for me.”

Drastic measures. Not quite as drastic as Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti’s proposal. “I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to suspend the game for two or three years.” He later acknowledged his suggestion was not “a proposal by the government, but a question I am asking.”

Even though their counsel may seem excessive, I doubt either approach would have any lasting impact.

While match-fixing in Italian football to the outside world at least seems a relatively isolated problem, those inside the country will perhaps understand why senior players and officials attempt to bribe referee’s and “buy” goalkeepers.

The Italian Economy

Forget the stereotypes, this is the new-look Mafia.

Gambling is Italy’s third largest industry, accounting for €76 billion (£61 billion) a year, with the average adult spending €1300 per annum, according to Libera. Gambling in the UK accounts for just 0.5% of GDP, a mere £6 billion a year, ten times less than in Italy.

When these figures are taken into consideration, any fool would be tempted by the prospective financial gains of match-fixing. Involve the once shadowy criminal underworld, now donning sharp business suits and sporting the latest mobile technology, the Mafia, and you have a real deep-seated problem.

A report released by the Confesercenti in January explains that organised crime accounts for the biggest segment of the Italian economy, some €100 billion or 7% GDP. Given the perilous financial situation Italy finds itself in and banks unwillingness to lend, the public have been forced to turn to loan sharks with impossible rates of interest. Every Italian is affected by the Mafia.

In order for a change to come at the top of Italian football, the very fabric of its society must change and this simply cannot happen overnight, or in “two or three years” as suggested by the Italian PM.

Out of Adversity comes Opportunity

Whilst a special match-fixing task force was set up in June of last year, a direct response to the number of recent betting probes, there remains the potential for more upheaval.

If history is anything to go by, the Italian public needn’t worry. After the first Totonero scandal in 1980, they won the World Cup in 1982, inspired by the return of Paolo Rossi. They followed up the Calciopoli affair by lifting it again for the 4th time in 2006. Could they lift the Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time since 1968?

The current Italian crop may be without their typical trequartista, someone in the mould of Roberto Baggio or Francesco Totti, but against the current World Champions Spain, the favourites for EURO 2012, they gave a good account of themselves. They might be worth a little outside bet.

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