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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Norwegian football officials finally react to suspicions of match-fixing

Five years after a football match involving Norway’s national team allegedly was fixed, and more than a week after Oslo-based newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) wrote about it, the men in charge of Norwegian football finally called in the media to air concerns about match-fixing in Norway. Their claims that they’re addressing those concerns came after suspicions that far more recent matches have been soiled by manipulation, and fully three years after match-fixing reportedly infiltrated Norway’s top leagues.

The men in charge of Norwegian football confronted the problem of match-fixing at a press conference on Sunday, five years after a national team match reportedly was fixed. From left: Yngve Hallen, Kjetil Siem and Svein Graff of The Football Association of Norway (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF). PHOTO: NFF/Christer Madsen

On Sunday came news that a match between two Norwegian clubs, Ull/Kisa and HamKam, had been postponed because of suspicions that its result would be manipulated. “We had received tips and indications that would have made it a dereliction of our duties if we didn’t react,” Kjetil Siem, secretary general of Norway’s football association (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF), told reporters at a press conference Sunday evening.

“We must see this as an alarm, and something that everyone needs to be aware of,” Siem said, claiming that he and his colleagues, including football president Yngve Hallen, were taking the threat of match-fixing seriously. Other concerns have arisen about a match last month between the lower division clubs Østsiden and Follo, which made it to the Norwegian Cup Final just two years ago. Østsiden’s 4-3 victory raised suspicions, not least after unusually large bets had been placed on the match. Investigations of both matches, plus a third unidentified match, are now underway. On Monday, NFF officials were sitting in crisis meetings and reported to police the names of players suspected of fixing matches. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that one was from HamKam and two were from Follo.

Late wake-up call
According to newspaper DN, the alarms should have started ringing for Siem and his colleagues several years ago. DN reported last weekend that a match between Norway’s national team (langslaget) and Malta was allegedly fixed as long as five years ago. According to DN, a 35-year-old Croatian named Marijo Cvrtak was sentenced last year in Germany, where he lives, to five-and-a-half years in prison for manipulating football matches. Among them was Norway vs Malta in the summer of 2007.

Cvrtak, a former football agent who ran a betting kiosk in Nürnburg, testified how he and his brother Josip had bought the result they wanted, after a visit with at least one Maltese player in his Oslo hotel room. Norway beat Malta 4-0 on home turf at Ullevaal Stadium, noted DN, when the Maltese team suddenly collapsed towards the end of play. Cvrtak had bet EUR 70,000 that Norway would win by more than three goals. When Norway did just that, Cvrtak “won” too.

The Cvrtak brothers already had teamed up with three other Croatian brothers named Sapina, reported DN. In 2009, both Marijo Cvrtak and Ante Sapina also were allegedly involved in manipulating a match between Norwegian clubs Sandefjord and Stabæk. German police investigators listening in on their phone conversations heard them say “we have half the team of Sandefjord.” They pounced 16 days after the match, arresting Cvrtak, Sapina and a string of colleagues, and seizing luxury cars and cash. Sapina confirmed his trip to Sandefjord but claimed the match wasn’t fixed. Sapina was nonetheless sentenced to jail.

‘We have perhaps been naive’
Sandefjord club officials claim the incident occurred when the club had several Bosnian players, from “another culture.” A Sandefjord employee named in the case but not charged in Germany told DN he wasn’t familiar with the names of those who were. He said he hasn’t been contacted either by police or football bureaucrats, and he remains active in top-level football in Scandinavia. DN didn’t identify him.

Gunnar Bjønnes, chairman of Sandefjord Football, told DN “we perhaps have been naive. I have never had suspicions that any of our players were involved in match-fixing, but there’s no reason to believe this can’t happen in Norway.”

Norwegian football officials Siem and Hallen also claim no one should be shocked over match-fixing in Norway. Their claims of taking the problem seriously, however, come several years after suspicions first arose and NFF staff claim they don’t even have a confidential report to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) on how the Norway-Malta match was fixed. Malta’s football boss, attending a recent meeting in Budapest with Siem, was reluctant to speak with DN and repelled a photographer who was taking his picture. He refused to comment whether any Maltese players had been banned after the incident, and said UEFA was responsible for any pending sanctions against Malta.

In short, not much official action has been taken after a World Cup qualifier in Norway was allegedly fixed five years ago, nor has there been much if any official reaction to the legal case involving the Sandefjord-Stabæk match. When asked before last week’s story was published whether NFF could help DN get a copy of the report on the Norway-Malta match to UEFA, Siem said: “No, why should we do that? There wouldn’t come anything good out of it for us.”

A week later, Siem’s tune was different. “We must work with preventative measures and cooperate well with the clubs,” he said, while Hallen added that the football officials now also want “tight cooperation with the police and (state) authorities to tackle this, make rules and be prepared when we discover this.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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