European Police have released information that uncovers an underground criminal ring, suspected of fixing approximately 380 different professional football matches over a period of several years.
The outreach of the reported tampered-with games stretches all across Europe, and has taken place in all levels of professional football, including UEFA European Championship qualifiers, and UEFA Champions League matches.
Europol is the European Union's law enforcement agency, and it's director, Rob Wainwright, led a press conference today releasing this information, as well as claiming Europol have identified 425 players, officials and organisers involved in the findings.
Wainwright added that Europol already knew about the majority of these fixed matches, but have chosen now to make the information public as they feel they've acquired "substantial evidence".
Make no mistake, this is no small organisation claiming they know something that they have little information about. This is one of the biggest global powers of law enforcement uncovering something huge, and having a case so water-tight, that they're happy to tell the world about it.
It will be no surprise if some of the names of these 425 who are involved with the scandal leak into the public domain over the coming weeks - and that's when the entire sport will begin to feel the effects of this investigation.
In terms of the effect it will have in England alone, one of the proposed 'fixed' UEFA Champions League matches took place in England in the last few years. This means it could be either an English team's home game against another European side, a knockout-stage fixture between two English sides, or even the 2011 final between Manchester United and Barcelona.
As more and more information slips through the fingers of Europol and into the laps of the Associated Press, the bruise this will leave on the sport will swell and swell.
FIFA (and more specifically UEFA) will have their systems questioned severely, as people begin to wonder how a match-fixing ring of such magnitude went entirely unnoticed by them.
Sponsors could well step back from throwing money at the sport, as they start the questioning the validity of what they're buying into, as well as worry about having their name slapped on the front of something that turns out to be corrupted. The TV revenue that so many leagues rely on - especially the Barclays Premier League - may have the same doubts, and then there's the usual forgotten victim in these matters: The Football fan.
If a supporter's team turns out to have been a part of a match that was fixed (whether the club knew about it or not), what's to stop that fan turning around, going home and not giving the team their entrance fee, or ripping up their season ticket?
After all, what they were paying for is not what they got. The importance of the every-day supporter is decreasing, but it is certainly not obsolete, not just yet, and if they start turning their backs, it's a downward spiral for the clubs from there-on-in.
Europol's investigation has uncovered something that could change the direction of football in the next few years, seriously slowing down its progress towards a corruption-free sport that rises above common issues; and the ball has only just started rolling.
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