The disciplinary commission of the Italian football federation (FIGC) has issued its verdicts in the latest match-fixing scandal. There will now be one, and possibly two, appeals, so they cannot be considered definitive yet. Basically the commission supported the case of the prosecution and came down extremely hard on clubs, players and officials. There were some reductions in points penalties – in Lega Pro (the third and fourth levels) Benevento from 14 to nine and Cremonese from nine to six, and in Serie A Atalanta from seven to six. These penalties arise from the fact that in Italian sporting law clubs are held to be "objectively responsible" for the conduct of their employees.In Lega Pro both Alessandria and Ravenna, whose directors were involved, were relegated from Prima Divisione, though as Ravenna had already been refused admission because of their finances nobody knows where they will be playing next season.
The players Marco Paoloni (ex-Cremonese and Benevento goalkeeper), Vincenzo Sommese (Ascoli) and Carlo Gervasoni (Piacenza) were given effective life bans, as was former Italy and Lazio striker Beppe Signori. Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni got three-and-half years and defender Thomas Manfredini three years. If the verdicts are confirmed their careers are effectively over.
Doni was convicted on the basis of hearsay and an anonymous letter, while in the case of Manfredini it was his word against that of Ascoli's Vittorio Micolucci. In a plea-bargain that saw his suspension reduced from five years to 14 months Micolucci became the first ever Italian player involved in match-fixing to confess, and his word was inevitably believed against Manfredini's, otherwise the commission would have been contradicting itself.
The overall feeling one has is that while the scourge of match-fixing and illegal betting has to be beaten, it is also necessary for justice to be seen to be done, and in some of these verdicts there is an element of summary justice and scapegoating. Doni and Manfredini, for example, may well be guilty, but no proof has been produced, as was eloquently pointed out by respected journalist Xavier Jacobelli in an article published the day after the verdicts. Moreover, punishing players so heavily on the basis of hearsay, anonymous letters and "his word against mine" sets some very dangerous precedents
It is now the turn of the defence lawyers to try to convince the appeals commission to overturn or reduce some of the sentences. But they will have very little time to develop their arguments as the whole process will last at the most three days. I'll be surprised if they succeed beyond, perhaps, a reduction in the points penalty for some clubs.
The federation is terrified of being seen to be weak, and since it doesn't have to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt, it is unlikely to relent. We should know within a couple of weeks, though as the Cremona magistrates will resume work in September, this might prove to have been only the first of a series of "trials" . Clubs so far untouched may find themselves involved, and some of those already under investigation could face further accusations.
This whole affair shows Italian football in a very poor light, but there is one ray of hope. The media is finally beginning to come out into the open and say what many of us have been saying for a very long time – that gambling is the cancer of football and far and away the biggest danger it faces at the moment, and that as a result every season scores of matches at all levels of the professional game in Italy are a farce and an insult to those who have paid to watch them. However this investigation, code named "Last Bet", ends, it should have scared a few people and might lead to a little more honesty, at least for a time.
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