Football

Football still tarnished by toxic element

Masiello faces professional ruin. (©GettyImages)
Masiello faces professional ruin. (©GettyImages).

When Bari's Andrea Masiello diverted a cross into his own net against Lecce in a Serie A encounter between the two sides last year, it appeared to be little more than a calamitous mistake from a usually reliable defender.

Bari were already staring down the barrel of defeat - and relegation - at 1-0 down with only ten minutes remaining, and Masiello's error put the result beyond doubt.

Three points for Lecce also enabled them to claw themselves away from the potential threat of relegation and retain a position in Italy's top-flight for another season.

It was clearly a moment which left Masiello contemplating what on earth he had just done, as the 26-year-old sprawled himself on the turf, eyes pointing skyward and hands raised in despair.

However, it has transpired that Masiello was not wondering why he had been victim of a cruel twist of fate but, as he he appeared to lay stricken by embarrassment, was safe in the knowledge he had received a significant financial incentive to score an own goal.

Masiello, now playing for Atalanta, was arrested on Monday in connection with alleged match fixing, and has since admitted that he was offered at least €50,000 to aid Lecce's bid for survival by turning into his own net.

Eight of his former teammates at Bari are also being investigated by police, in yet another prominent match-fixing scandal to rock the already tarnished Italian game.

It has been suggested by magistrates that Bari and Lecce as respective clubs were aware of the actions being undertaken by their players, but this has been strenuously denied.

"We thought it was a normal match," Bari's sporting director Guido Angelozzi told SkyTG24 television. "The club is a damaged party in this. It gained no advantage from this at all."

Last summer the Italian Interior Ministry launched a match-fixing task force following a number of high-profile cases during the previous season, and the arrest of Masiello has been their prized scalp so far.

The case of the former Juventus centre-back also comes after the announcement of a partnership between the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) and the Université Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne announced to 'combat behaviour which contravenes principles of sporting integrity including match-fixing'.

"Our mission is to enhance security and safety in the world of sport by proactively addressing real issues and providing best-in-class training, research and advisory services," read a statement from Mohammed Hanzab, president of the ICSS.

"Sporting integrity is at the centre of our sport security efforts and this partnership will ensure that that we are able to provide expert advice to assist international sporting federations and bodies in their ongoing efforts to address the scourge of match-fixing and other illegal sporting activity.”

The threat of illegal activity in football is clearly one concerning those involved in prominent positions in the game, and the initiative between the ICSS and the Université Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne serves as further evidence of its potential severity.

However, the problems appear to run far deeper than the dealings of illegal bookmakers - who have operated in cricket - but the latest Italian scandal has links to potentially dangerous criminal organisations.

Bari players have also claimed they were under pressure from the heads of 'ultra' supporter groups to fix matches in order to assist these betting scams with links to the criminal underworld.

It is not, however, only individual players to have been accused of taking payments to indulge in wrongdoing, but there are fears the problem is far more widespread throughout the football world.

The subject of corruption appears to be one football is unable to escape from, with allegations of illegal activity even levelled at those at the very top of the game, and Fifa remain under extreme pressure to sort out their own house.

Recent displays of love and support by the 'football family' in the wake of the problems suffered by Eric Abidal, Fabrice Muamba and Stiliyan Petrov are now threatened to be overshadowed by an issue that raises questions about the legitimacy of numerous results.

There is no getting away from the fact that this toxic element continues to run through the very blood of the game.

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