Player released, football woes roll on

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Norwegian football remains caught in the throes of a match-fixing and gambling scandal even though police released a player for a minor-league club whom they’d arrested Wednesday night. The player remains charged with accepting payment for match-fixing, while professional clubs and football bureaucrats remain anxious over the future of their sport.

The lower division football club Follo, which sometimes sports pink uniforms in support of breast cancer research, made it to the Norwegian Cup finals two years ago but is now wallowing in a match-fixing scandal. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Even the chairman of the arrested player’s club, Follo south of Oslo, conceded that he couldn’t rule out other players being charged. Ole Bjørn Fausa of Follo told news bureau NTB that the arrest of a Follo player, who hasn’t been publicly identified, was “serious” and that it was possible other players could be implicated as well.

“The police are leading the investigation and this is serious for Norwegian football,” Fausa said, “but I want to stress that it’s a long way from being charged to being convicted.”

The player in question was also charged with receiving stolen property, and TV2 reported he’d been staying away from practice sessions lately. It’s been claimed that he met representatives in Stockholm for a European gambling league and was offered a five-digit amount to influence the result of a Follo match.

It’s also been reported that two Follo players were involved in an attempt to manipulate the result of a match between Follo and Østsiden in Fredrikstad on June 24. Large amounts of money were placed in bets on the match. The “stolen property” for which the player is so far charged was the money he received as a dividend for the alleged match-fixing, said Gro Smogeli of the Oslo Police District, in charge of financial and environmental crimes.

She told reporters on Thursday that the player was released “because we didn’t see any danger of him tampering with evidence.” She claimed police had enough evidence to maintain the charges against him and call in others for questioning.

The alleged match-fixing, also involving other matches in recent years, has shaken Norway’s football bureaucrats so much that Kjetil Siem, head of Norges Fotballforbund (NFF), told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Thursday that “we must evaluate a total ban” on gambling for players and club staff. The sport has also been shaken by admissions by former players, including Claus Lundekvam who played professionally in England, that they took part in manipulation or gambled on inside information. The international football association FIFA is investigating.

DN also reported that former national team player Martin Andresen, who now coaches Oslo club Vålerenga, also bet on a match where the result was fixed beforehand, after a tip by another former teammate Frode Olsen. Andresen has challenged DN’s report.

Siem believes any gambling based on inside information or manipulation of match results is unacceptable. Current regulations make some of the gambling hard to control, however, because of what Siem calls “grey areas,” which is why he thinks a total ban should be considered. Amidst a stream of reports about other players being contacted with lucrative offers to fix matches, Børre Rognlien, head of Norway’s national athletics association, has said he wants to ban any match-fixers from professional sport for life.

Meanwhile, a match that was cancelled on Sunday over concerns that it had been fixed, between HamKam and Ull/Kisa, was rescheduled for July 18 after an investigation found no evidence of match-fixing.

The current scandal is the latest in a long string of problems for Norwegian football, from severe financial difficulties at many clubs, to empty grandstands at even some of the biggest clubs’ matches, to legal challenges over player and coach transfers and generally poor results by both top clubs and, not least, Norway’s national football team (landslaget). Newspaper Dagbladet called 2011 football’s “annus horribilis,” and 2012 isn’t turning out to be any better.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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