Match-fixing leaves Germany in turmoil

The hosts of World Cup 2006 are reeling from a corrupt referee's confession. Clive Freeman reports from Berlin
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The Independent Online

With Football's governing body, Fifa, pressing Germany to take firm action over a match-fixing scandal involving Berlin referee Robert Hoyzer, the DFB (German football federation) has vowed to "clear up the case regardless of who is involved".

With Football's governing body, Fifa, pressing Germany to take firm action over a match-fixing scandal involving Berlin referee Robert Hoyzer, the DFB (German football federation) has vowed to "clear up the case regardless of who is involved".

It will certainly need to. The 25-year-old referee's admission that he manipulated matches he officiated in the German cup last year has rocked the world of German football - and, more damagingly, has cast a shadow over preparations for the World Cup, which Germany is hosting next year.

Rumours are rife that Hoyzer was linked to Croatian mafia elements, who acted as front-men for him in Berlin, placing hefty bets on matches he was refereeing, netting him more than a million euros in successful bets. The BZ, Berlin's biggest-selling tabloid, claimed yesterday that Hoyzer often met with underworld contacts in Café King in the city's down-town Rankestrasse.

It appears the DFB first got wind of the match-rigging scandal after unusually high bets were placed on a cup match involving lowly second-division club Paderborn and the powerful Bundesliga side, Hamburg, with Oddset, Germany's largest betting firm. On 19 January, four referees then brought their concerns to the attention of the DFB. They claimed they had "indications" - information and witness accounts - that a German cup match and four games in the second division had been manipulated by Hoyzer.

The Paderborn-Hamburg match, refereed by the 25-year-old Hoyzer, ended in a stunning 4-2 home victory for Paderborn, despite Hamburg leading 2-0 in the early stages. That changed soon after Hoyzer sent off Emile Mpenza, a key Hamburg player, for a harmless tackle on a Paderborn forward, and then proceeded to award the home side what many observers agreed were two "ridiculous" penalties, much to the bewilderment of Hamburg's then coach, Klaus Toppmöller.

Two days ago the scandal suddenly took on a new dimension when Hoyzer, who had earlier proclaimed his innocence, broke his silence after a meeting with his lawyers by claiming that, "the allegations made against me in public are basically true. I sincerely regret my behaviour and apologise to the German football federation, my referee colleagues and football fans."

The confession was the climax of a bad week for German football, which now faces its most serious crisis since the league was rocked by a match-fixing scandal in 1971. Hoyzer has now volunteered to be the key witness for the public prosecutor's office in Berlin. The young referee was living in the capital at the time the match-rigging occurred.

There is also concern here about how football fans will react to the scandal at Bundesliga matches this weekend. Some administrators fear there could be an explosion of anger against referees, with crowds yelling, "Hoyzer, Hoyzer, Hoyzer", every time officials were deemed to have falsely whistled infringements.

The German daily Bild Zeitung, reported yesterday that Hoyzer's lawyer, Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, had conceded that beside five matches already suspected of being manipulated, "other games were involved". Matches likely to have been rigged include those between Ahlen and Burghausen, Braunschweig and St Pauli, and Paderborn and Hamburg. There is also evidence that last October Hoyzer sought to manipulate the outcome of a game between Essen and Cologne, by persuading one of the linesmen, Felix Zwayer, to go along with his match-fixing plans.

Zwayer refused. In December, according to Bild, Hoyzer again tried to involve Zwayer in corrupt practice. By now, really alarmed, Zwayer notified Lutz-Michael Frölich, a respected Bundesliga referee, of what Hoyzer was was up to. Later, when two other match officials grew suspicious of Hoyzer, the DFB's control commission was alerted.

The DFB now faces a battery of complaints. Hamburg, which had earlier fired off a protest to the federation regarding the Paderborn match, will now press for large-scale compensation. Playing the match again has been ruled out. Hamburg's initial complaint was rejected by the federation because of "insufficient evidence," according to Theo Zwanziger, the DFB's co-president.

Toppmöller, who was fired as Hamburg's coach a few games after the team were eliminated from the German cup tournament, claims: "The referee cost me my job. We were doing fine until the loss against Paderborn. Then everything went downhill."

This is not the first time this season that allegations have been made of match-fixing. In December, betting agencies notified officials that an extraordinary high amount of money was wagered on a second division game between FC Erzgebirge and Rot-Weiss Oberhausen. Huge sums were bet on Erzgebirge, who won 2-0 thanks to a mysterious headed own goal by an Oberhausen defender, and a disputed penalty kick.

When Oberhausen asked prosecutors in Duisburg to open an investigation, it was turned down on the grounds that investigators had "little to go on".