Referee in Cyprus reveals match-fixing amid accusations from South Africa

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A referee in Cyprus has felt the cold twinge of guilt, and has acted upon those feelings.

According to an Associated Press report, 34-year-old referee Marios Panayi (pictured) has gone to the police with documents proving what he says is a massive match-fixing problem among referees and politicians.

“I felt I had to speak out, so that finally people can know what is going on and authorities can take action to fix what I’ve dedicated my life to,”Panayi said.

The Cypriot FA president Costas Koutsokoumnis confirmed in the AP report that he received evidence back in January of 17 matches that may have been compromised. The evidence suggests, according to the report, that the league is “plagued” by match-fixing. Koutsokoumnis says the match-fixing mostly involved games with relegation consequences and span the last three years.

UEFA told the AP they are “working closely with the Cyprus FA and cannot comment on ongoing investigations.”

According to Panayi, the problem may look simple enough to fix, but that it’s actually a problem that’s deeply intertwined in referee education. “The problem is very deeply rooted and starts at the lowest divisions,” Panayi says. “You can’t wait until a referee reaches the top divisions to exert control over him, you groom him from the earliest stages. It’s easier to do favors in the top divisions if you’re used to doing so in the lowest ones.”

All this comes amid claims by the South African sports minister that FIFA’s stance on match-fixing is “very inefficient.” Fikile Mbalula told the Associated Press he’s unhappy with how long FIFA’s investigation into match-fixing in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup is taking.

“[The delay] has not damaged us…it has actually damaged FIFA’s image as a very inefficient and very relaxed to allegations of corruption and not dealing with them decisively,” Mbalula told the AP while in London. “It has affected their image. So to rid of that image, they need to deal decisively with this allegation and put it in abeyance. That image that FIFA is a corrupt body still stands out in the world among ordinary people.”

One can only hope FIFA takes these accusations seriously, because the revaluation that referees are being groomed for years to accept match-fixing sounds like an incredibly deep-rooted problem that could take serious punishments and hard work to stamp out. It may just be the Cypriot league, but such serious accusations make one wonder how prevalent in other countries this may be.