Brazilians shocked to discover football is as corrupt as politics

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Allegations of bribery and misuse of election funds have paralysed President Lula da Silva's government but the left-wing firebrand has survived. Brazil's top referee, however, faces expulsion after a match-fixing scandal which has made a farce of the dome- stic season.

Edilson Pereira de Carvalho, one of only 10 Fifa-accredited referees in Brazil, was arrested last month and accused of taking bribes of up to £2,550 to alter the outcome of vital games. Carvalho and another referee, Paulo José Danelon, have admitted influencing matches in the São Paulo state championships. And the news that some of Brazilian football's most respected figures are engulfed in a corruption scandal has hit fans in the country for six.

"I was knocked sideways", Catarina Pedroso, 18, a dedicated follower of São Paulo's Palmeiras, told the Financial Times. "At matches everyone shouts juiz ladrão ["referee you're a thief"] but you don't expect it to be true."

Football holds a quasi-religious status in Brazil, and although it is not the first time corruption has dogged the game, fans are furious that their national passion has gone the same way as their politics.

The Brazilian football legend Pelé said he was disgusted at the action of what he called "numerous immoral bandits". Speaking last week he insisted on strong punishments for those implicated. "This is the time to clean up Brazilian football once and for all", he said.

In 2002, millions of Brazilians voted for Lula da Silva and his Workers' Party hoping a new era of transparency would be ushered in to renew a political system renowned for its shady dealings and vested interests. But the new government disappointed those hopes.

Other countries, including Turkey, Italy, Finland and Greece, have been hit by match-fixing scandals this year. Fifa's general secretary, Urs Linsi, admitted there is a problem. Speaking at the weekend he said corruption was inevitable. "We don't live in a perfect world but we are here to try to address the problem", he told Reuters.

Brazil's Supreme Court of Sporting Justice, the tribunal that deals with football leagues, has ordered that 11 matches refereed by Carvalho be replayed. The move could dramatically affect the championship with four of the front-runners having to play games again.

Fans will not have to pay to watch the replayed matches - the public will be allowed in to see each replayed game free of charge.