Italian soccer is once again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, as Catania Calcio President Antonio Pulvirenti was arrested on Tuesday along with six others in what is, sadly, only the latest match-fixing scandal to hit the soccer-mad country.
Pulvirenti is accused of having paid off certain opposition players to help his team win games and avoid relegation to Lega Pro, Italy’s third division. Catania, for years a mainstay in Italy’s top flight, was only relegated from Serie A to Serie B a little more than a year ago, but the Sicilian club spent much of last season struggling to avoid a second-straight demotion, winning key matches at the end of the season in order to stave off the drop.
However, speaking at a news conference on Tuesday morning, Catania state prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said, "At least five matches, if not six, were fixed with sums of money paid to opposition players," He added that three further people were under investigation aside from the seven who were arrested Tuesday.
According to ESPN, prosecutors have obtained recordings of phone conversations involving Pulvirenti and his staff, as well as representatives of opposition clubs suggesting that at least five of Catania’s key results, including wins against Varese, Trapani, Latina, Ternana, as well as a draw with Livorno, may have been fixed. The report claims that specific players from those clubs have also been arrested, although no one from Catania is currently under suspicion.
According to Antonella Paglialunga, director of Italian special branch Digos, the Catania match-fixing scandal has been labeled "Goal Trains": “The operation ‘Goal Trains’ derives from the language used by the parties concerned in which the ‘trains’ were the players to approach and the ‘arrival times’ were their shirt numbers. The modus operandi of the members was divided into two phases – a ‘conception’ phase that had President Pulvirenti at its summit and an ‘execution’ phase, with the delivery of the money needed to pay the player who was subject of corruption.
If found guilty, Catania will undoubtedly be relegated to Lega Pro, Italy’s third division, and may also face a possible point-deduction to begin next season.
As the BBC points out, this is the second match-fixing scandal to hit Italian soccer this year. A month ago, police detained 50 people on accusations of fixing dozens of games in the Lega Pro, as well as Italy’s top semi-professional league.
In 2006, Serie A clubs Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina were demoted to Serie B for their involvement in another widespread match-fixing scandal; Juve was also stripped of the league titles it won in 2004-05 and 2005-06 in addition to receiving a 30-point deduction to start the Serie B season in 2006-07.
At the moment, the investigation continues, so it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions here other than simply pointing out that 1) we’ve seen this movie before, and 2) Italian soccer has a big corruption problem that we hope isn’t as big and widespread as FIFA’s corruption problem.
In any event, what does everyone involved have to say for themselves so far?
While Catania president Pulvirenti admits he’s now “considering his position,” he maintains “complete innocence”. The other clubs that have had players or staff implicated in aiding Catania’s great escape are all pretty much echoing Pulvirenti’s denial.
Meanwhile, Serie B president Andrea Abodi was "bewildered" by the news: "Our first reaction is certainly one of great pain because we are working hard every day to make our league credible and to improve its reputation, so this news leaves us bewildered. We need to react immediately and continue our work and multiply our efforts.”
Unfortunately for you, Mr. Abodi, no matter what happens here, your league’s reputation will be taking a big battering from this scandal. Stronger authorities are undoubtedly needed in Italian soccer.