Sparta chief blows the whistle on further allegations of corruption in Czech football
Posted: September 26, 2012
Devastated FAČR chief Miroslav Pelta reflects on the latest corruption claims.
By Jonathan Crane and Joey Kamide
For the Post
Another corruption scandal is threatening to rock Czech football after the owner of 35-time league champions Sparta Praha, Daniel Křetínský, passed a secret dossier of evidence on to FAČR head Miroslav Pelta.
Křetínský met Pelta Sept. 18 to hand over the 40-page document outlining his corruption claims, which the billionaire boss is said to have compiled with the help of a private detective agency. Speculation is rife over the contents of the potentially explosive dossier, with many insiders linking it to a power struggle that goes right to the top of the national game.
"We have very disturbing and specific information relating to the management of matches," Křetínský told reporters. "Now it is up to [Pelta] to take appropriate action. I'm not here to comment on one particular match. I came to present information that is much more serious and concerns the entire system."
By all accounts, the information provided by Křetínský appears to be genuine. Following their meeting, Pelta said he was "devastated" by what he had read, and highlighted the gravity of the claims.
"I think it's so serious I can't name anyone," he said. "The sad thing is that I think the information is credible."
The matter is now in the hands of anti-corruption police, indicating cases of bribery rather than simple match fixing, while all parties have maintained a stony silence since the story broke.
"I have been asked not to disclose concrete details, so as not to thwart the investigation," Pelta said Sept. 19. "[The information] concerns the way of supervising matches. At the moment, only three of us in this country know the facts: me, Křetínský and anti-corruption police chief Tomáš Martinec."
It would not be the first such scandal to hit the Gambrinus liga in recent years. Last August, current Czech cup holders Sigma Olomouc were docked nine points and fined 4 million Kč for attempting to bribe Bohemians Praha players before the final day of the 2008/09 season, in a match they needed to win to secure their European qualification. UEFA subsequently banned the club from competing in this season's Europa League.
But the worst case dates to 2004, when the FAČR found Synot (who later renamed themselves Slovácko) guilty of bribing referees. More than a dozen people were convicted in the fallout from the scandal, including former World Cup official Evžen Amler and flamboyant Viktoria Žižkov sporting director Ivan Horník.
As the latest police investigation continues, the rumor mill has gone into overdrive. One hypothesis is that referees were directly betting on matches whose outcomes they could affect. Another more likely scenario is that the same referees were offered bribes to throw matches on behalf of criminal organizations. Daily Sport reported Sept. 19 the Albanian mafia may be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
However, betting is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. People inside the game say Křetínský's claims could implicate those at the highest echelons of Czech football, as the country's top teams vie for influence with the powers that be.
Speaking Sept. 18, Pelta confirmed referees' chief Dagmar Damková and her partner, FAČR board member Roman Berbr, were not under suspicion, but refused to comment further.
Eyebrows have also been raised at the timing of the claims, which came just three days after a controversial penalty decision cost Sparta the match against fierce rivals Viktoria Plzeň Sept. 15. Křetínský labeled the result as the "final straw," while Plzeň owner Tomáš Paclík has moved quickly to defend his club from any wrongdoing.
"This is utter nonsense; I'm absolutely calm," he told weekly Týden Sept. 24. "I don't know what [Křetínský's documents] are about, but Plzeň is not involved. Our conscience is clean."
Czechs bounced in Regensburg
The pitching that carried them the prior week at the European Championship was not as sharp, as the Czech Republic's senior national baseball team dropped its two games at the double-elimination World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensburg, Germany.
After compiling a staff ERA of 2.85 in claiming fifth place at the Euros, the Czech pitchers were touched up for 28 runs (24 earned) on 23 hits and 11 walks over 14 2/3 innings in a 16-1 loss to Germany Sept. 21, and a 12-5 loss to Great Britain the following day.
"We obviously would have loved to have better results, but the experience for the players was something that they'll never forget," said head coach Andy Berglund.
The WBC qualifier is the largest stage the team has ever competed on, with 16 countries competing for the final four spots in next year's 16-team main event, which will take place during Major League Baseball's spring training.
"For a small baseball country to be included in the biggest baseball tournament in the world," Berglund said. "That was a big moment for Czech baseball."
Unfortunately for the Czech Republic, they were unable to respond with the world watching.
Michal Sobotka, the 20-year-old Draci Brno product, allowed three runs in the first inning of the opener against Germany, which was able to chase the tall right-hander with the Czech Republic trailing 7-1 with one out in the fifth inning. Germany's third baseman, Matt Weaver, then put the game away with a Grand Slam off reliever Petr Minařík (Draci Brno).
Against Great Britain, Czech starter Jan Blažek (Kotlářka Praha) was chased from the game with one out in the third inning after allowing six runs (five earned) on six hits and three walks. Alex Sogard relieved and was able to keep the Czech team within striking distance while limiting the British bats to one additional run through the sixth inning, but GB plated five runs off relievers Minařík and Jan Homolka (Eagles Praha) over the next two innings to put the game away.
Jakub Malík (Arrows Ostrava) and Mike Cervenak each had three hits and drove in a run to pace the Czech bats, which combined for 10 hits in Saturday's loss. Cervenak, a third baseman with the Triple A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, hit .714 (5-for-7) for the tournament.
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