What is Strangling Serie A? Part 5 – The Calciopoli Effect and a Brighter Future?

Over the last few weeks we have looked at several different factors that have led to the decline of Serie A from the foremost football league in the world. Yet for all these issues,  there is one factor which may well have directly contributed to less TV revenue, players leaving Serie A or opting to play elsewhere, a decline in European performance, a decline in the quality of stadia and falling attendances and perhaps even contributed towards hooliganism in the country.

Indeed, the Calciopoli scandal could well have had a lasting and dangerous impact on the long-term future of Italian soccer.

The effect if Calcopoli was more than just five Serie A clubs (Milan, Fiorentina, Juventus, Lazio and Reggina) receiving punishments for match fixing and attempting to influence referees. Juventus, or rather Luciano Moggi, was seen as the main culprits and they were relegated to Serie B as well as being stripped of two Serie A titles (2005 and 2006) and thrown out of the 2006-2007 Champions League.

Yet interestingly the punishments to all clubs were cut on appeal and instead of three being relegated, only Juventus were demoted to Serie B.

The influence of Calciopoli extends beyond the clubs and the initial accusations. One of Italian TV’s most popular football hosts, Aldo Biscardi, resigned after allegations that he had colluded with Luciano Moggi to give Juventus a more favourable representation on TV.

Several former and current players, including national keeper Gianluigi Buffon, former West Brom midfielder Enzo Maresca, Antonio Chimenti and Mark Iuliano were all investgated by a court in Parma over alleged betting on Serie A matches – although all players were subsequently cleared by a court in December 2006.

As investigators waded through the evidence, increasingly the net is growing larger. Messina, Lecce and Siena are now being investigated after telephone transcripts involving club officials revealed that they too may have been involved.

During the trial, Moggi also released wiretaps from the 2004 and 2005 seasons that implicated both AC Milan and Inter and several other clubs thought not to be involved in the scandal.  Inter responded by threatening to sue Moggi for his remarks claiming their complete innocence.

However the chief investigator for the FIGC, Stefano Palazzi, took a different view claiming in July 2011 that: “Inter violated the article relative to sporting fraud and is directly responsible for having secured an advantage in the league standings by conditioning the regular function of the referee sector, but no court could confirm this allegations [SIC] since all facts are covered by the statute of limitation.”

With key figures from the scandal jailed, Moggi was sentenced to five years and four months in jail in November 2011 and others banned for life or suspended from the game for a varying amount of time, Calciopoli has affected almost every aspect of the Italian games.

For the international broadcaster, Serie A became a tainted league, one which viewers would be loathe to watch due to the fact that it may not be an ‘honest’ battle between teams. This could well be influencing why Serie A earns so little comparatively from international TV rights when compared to the Premier League.

The impact on clubs involved in the scandal was huge; Juventus saw top players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lilian Thuram leave the club rather than stay with them in Serie B.

Fans, already hit by the economic recession became less inclined to support their team amidst crumbling stadia, hooliganism, open racism and the weighty evidence the suspicion that certain teams were gaining favour from officials.

The problem with Calciopoly was that its roots seemed to undermine all aspects of Italian soccer and while the true extent of it may never be known, its lasting legacy is a stain on the Italian game that is indelible at times and which is still certainly being felt today.

Yet that is not the only scandal that rocked Italian soccer, in 2011, Scommessopoli struck, with allegations of match fixing including many notable Italian players including ex-Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori, Mauro Bressan, Stefano Bettarini and Cristiano Doni. They were accused of fixing matches at Serie B level and below and they along with a host of other players and officials and teams were punished with bans, fines and point deductions.

Then in December 2013, Gennaro Gattuso was arrested as part of a match-fixing probe into how games in Serie A were regularly rigged and fixed, in a scandal which is reportedly looking into 30 matches in Serie A stretching back to 2009.

The three-year investigation has uncovered evidence of an “organised system among former and current footballers, sports betting operators and others to manipulate the results of dozens of matches.”

These scandals are not the first to rock Italy, Paolo Rossi was involved, and banned for his part in the “Totonero” betting scandal of 1980, although Rossi maintains his innocence.

The sheer number and magnitude of the scandals certainly doesn’t portray Serie A in a positive light either domestically, or internationally and certainly these scandals do nothing to help attract fans from other parts of the world, or indeed within Italy. Without doubt these scandals have contributed greatly to the slow and steady decline of the game since the 1980s and early 1990s.

The Green Shoots of Hope?

Yet the very fact that FIGC is investigating these claims so thoroughly may well be the smartest move it has made, for while the effect in the short term may be unpleasant, rooting out the corruption within Italian football in general, regardless of how big or small the issue is, or the clubs involved, can only be a positive.

By taking a hard line against those who offend, the FIGC is at least attempting to address the issue, which is more than can be said for other leagues in the world where match fixing is alleged to be a problem, but where governing bodies seem reluctant to act upon the evidence.

By robustly tackling the issue, FIGC is taking a longer term view of the problem and I believe has the view that the pain experienced at present will only be of benefit over the longer term.

They are the green shoots of hope that can lead to Serie A’s recovery and it becoming one of the most respected leagues in world football once again.

It will be a long journey and occasionally the steps needed to be taken may be painful, but for the long term benefit of Italian soccer, it is a journey well worth taking.


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