The shocking testimony of previously unheard of Mauritian forward Cheikh Saad rocked Spanish football this week with fears that match-fixing is running wild in the country’s lower divisions, AFP reports.
“Sport’s big problem is not doping, but the fixing of matches linked to illegal betting patterns,” says Jose Luis Perez Trivino, a legal expert on the subject and president of the Spanish association for quality ethics in sport.
Alarms were raised when on April 1 Barcelona’s youth team, Barca B, thrashed Eldense 12-0 in the Second Division B — Spain’s regional third tier.
Saad watched on from the bench as the goals rained in to mathematically relegate Eldense.
“It was hard to take because there were players suffering a lot and afterwards you realise that it is our own teammates who have been laughing at us,” said the 26-year-old.
Saad reported his suspicions to the police along with Eldense president David Aguilar.
Five people have since been arrested, including Italian coach Filippo Di Pierro, another member of the coaching staff, two players and the head of an Italian investment company that recently took control of the club.
According to Spanish press reports, the mysterious Italian investment in a struggling side in Spanish football’s third tier could have mafia connections with the intention of fixing matches.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” the Spanish league’s director of integrity Alfredo Lorenzo told AFP.
“There are other cases of the same magnitude that we have already reported and will come to light.”
All of those cases stem from the third and fourth tiers, semi-professional leagues where the controls and spotlight on the participants are a world away from the upper echelons of La Liga where millionaires like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ply their trade.
Average salaries of clubs in Spain’s lower divisions can often be less than 1,000 euros ($1,058) a month.
“It is not that these players are less honest, but they earn very little and it is more fertile territory (for fixers),” says Javier Edo, head of the integrity division at Spanish players’ union AFE.