Story via CaughtOffside
Although the European Cup was always the premier football competition on the continent, it’s arguable that it wasn’t until it was rebranded as the Champions League in the early 90s that its popularity really soared.
Prior to the rebrand, only the actual Champions of the various European leagues were able to take part, meaning that public interest in the competition wasn’t as wide as perhaps it should’ve been.
Now, it’s a competition that is screened worldwide, and thanks to having a group stage consisting of six matches for each team before the knockout rounds even takes place, there’s plenty of opportunity for exposure.
With such a high level of interest, however, there are always going to be those that seek to profit in some way.
The bigger the potential reward, the larger and more dangerous the interest.
According to The Sun, UEFA referees are being offered up to £25,000 to swing matches by the Mafia.
Bribes in football is nothing new of course, though such incidents were generally thought to be the preserve of Far Eastern betting syndicates. The Irish Times recalled just such a scenario back in 1997 relating to Premier League goalkeepers, Hans Segers and Bruce Grobbelaar.
If the Mafia were successful in being able to infiltrate and manipulate UEFA’s refereeing pool, it could render European campaigns for the likes of Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Man City moribund.
Clearly, that would be an absolute disaster for all concerned.
It’s clear that the threat is being taken seriously too, as a memo sent to the FA, and detailed by The Sun, indicated there were “incidents in which a suspected match-fixer attempted to recruit referees to manipulate matches via social media.”
The memo also suggested that “the corrupters made use of cyber-crime tactics not previously seen in reported corrupter messages, possibly pointing to a bleed-over in tactics from more sophisticated groups or even the potential for collaboration with such groups.
“This evolution may have been accelerated by the Covid lockdown, during which cyber criminals both diversified and intensified their criminal activities, according to Europol.
“We assess corrupters will likely continue to attempt contact with players, referees and other officials via social media and the use of more sophisticated messages, including personalised content and manipulation techniques.”