Friday, July 11, 2014

Calcio’s Greatest Shame

My first memory of Italian “justice” goes back a number of years when I read a little writeup in an American paper about a rape trial in Southern Italy. Everything pointed to the man’s guilt, but he was exonerated of all wrongdoing by the all-male court, who cited that the young woman’s pants were too tight, therefore he could not have removed them by himself, therefore it was not rape. Reading about this enraged my sensibilities, not only as a woman, but also as an American. Sadly, it is not hard to find injustice here, but at least the system usually fails because of human error or perhaps a legal loophole that actually requires intelligence and effort to find, rather than making up rulings at will. However, reading about that case prepared me for my shock from the ever growing laundry list that is Silvio Berlusconi’s resumé of legal allegations and the complete lack of justice for the man who gained much of his wealth and power due to Milan’s successes on the pitch. And yet, as ill as that always makes me to think about, he is hardly calcio’s greatest shame.

While the players were basking in victory, their world was crashing down around them

It was eight years ago this summer that the football match fixing scandal which would be  branded “Calciopoli” broke. There have been many, many scandals over the years, and although the ongoing investigations in the “Calcioscomesse” scandal were promised to eclipse Calciopoli in scope, it is perhaps the mishandling of the evidence and the broad injustices of the sporting justice system and individuals involved that make Calciopoli calcio’s greatest shame. However, what I find most scandalous is how few people know what really happened, especially Milanisti. That is one of the greatest injustices of all, that the truth still lies hidden from so many people even eight years after the scandal broke. What Milanisti remember about the 2006-07 season is that we won our most recent Champions League trophy. But no one remembers the blood on our hands when we did, or why we shouldn’t have even been in Serie A or Champions League that season.

Everyone knows that Juventus were relegated to Serie B for the 2006-07 season and had two of their titles stripped. But what never made sense was the original ruling itself. According to the sporting justice code, to be relegated, a team would have had to have violated the terms of Article 6, which involves illicit activity such as matchfixing. (FIGC Code of Sporting Justice) But Juventus were never officially accused of and definitely never found guilty of matchfixing. (Federal Court Sentence, p. 74) Rather the court used one phone call from then Juventus Director Luciano Moggi to former referee designator Paolo Bergamo to cite violations of Article 1, which involves unsportsmanlike conduct, and punishment for violations typically involve smaller fines, bans, or at the most a small points deduction. With nothing to support the accusations and seemingly needing someone to blame, the FIGC did something unprecedented, a point which has been heavily criticized by the legal community. They created a “structured article violation,” (Commissione d’Appello Federale orCAF Sentence, p. 76) stringing together multiple Article 1 violations by Juventus to equivocate (but not prove) an Article 6 violation and justify their hasty decision to relegate the club. So they invented a ruling to justify a punishment.

But that’s not all. The ruling itself is riddled with inconsistencies. For example, it says that the “referee decisions and selections were not compromised” and that the 04-05 season “wasn’t compromised by match fixing” and that “no game was altered unjustly.” But in the same document, in order to justify the ruling, it also says that “Juventus still obtained an advantage in the standings.” (See CAF Sentence) Basically, within the original findings of the court, Juventus were punished simply because they won. On the pitch. (Federal Court Sentence p. 77)

Were their red kits symbolic of the blood they would shed simply for winning?

It is important to note that the original trial and verdict were rushed. The scandal broke in the middle of May, right at the end of the 2005-06 season.  Because of the stark contrast of Italy’s success in the World Cup and the shame of such a large scale scandal, prosecutors were pressured to push the trial through. Also because it involved so many of the teams who were supposed to compete in Europe that next season, UEFA demanded a final decision on the eligibility of the teams involved by July 25th. If you know the Italian system, that is very, very fast. So, to help expedite the case, no wire taps were heard in court, only transcripts were read. There were no witnesses. And no video evidence allowed by the defense. In fact, the defense was only given 3 days to compile their arguments and was not presented with the evidence prior to the trial, even though that is the normal procedure within the law. Instead, the press got a hold of the evidence first (more on that later.) The original Calciopoli trial was more farcical and short-lived than one of Berlusconi’s numerous appeals, but with so much more on the line.

That brings me to Milan. One of the arguments for the Juventus witch hunt was that Juventus were the only ones in contact with the referee designators or referees, that they had an “exclusive” relationship with them. (see CAF Sentence p. 74) But that was never true, which is why Stefano Palazzi, the prosecutor for the FIGC in the Calciopoli case originally called for Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina, and Lazio to all be relegated. In fact, Milan actually had a Director of Referee Relations, Leonardo Meani. Of the climate at the time, ex-referee designator Bergamo explained “It was a moment when we were asked to create a tranquil situation for referees. The Federation (FIGC) gave us a telephone which they used to pay for and they knew all the statements. Our phone numbers were given to all the clubs, and they all used to call us.” So everyone was doing this at the time, but only certain clubs were punished, some a lot more than others.

Milan stands out in this situation, though, not only for having Meani on the payroll specifically for the purpose of talking to the referee designator, but for the fact that evidence showed that Galliani and Meani both violated Article 6. This means that Milan should have been relegated. You might say, “but Milan were punished.” True. Milan were docked 30 points from the standings at the end of the 2005-06 season. And another 8 points for the 2006-07 season, too.

"Didn't I tell you to never be caught on camera with me, Leonardo?"

But here’s where things get really strange. Juventus were convicted on Article 1 charges, and the court’s decision said that Juve directors Moggi and Giraudo acted independently, which infers that the club should not have been punished. But Milan used this same idea to work for them, that Galliani and Meani acted independently, which allowed Milan to remain in the Champions League that season. Was it just because Galliani was the President of Serie A at the time? Or that Berlusconi was Prime Minister of Italy? Or was it all of those phone calls that were wire tapped where they discussed meeting with referee Pierluigi Collina in Meani’s restaurant when it was closed? You know, Collina, who I’m sure was only coincidentally appointed the head referee designator following that meeting (although I also read somewhere that Inter’s Facchetti nominated him.)

And as for our Champions League efforts that season, that was the one where we earned our seventh shiny Champions League trophy. So if Milan were allowed to be in Champions League, then Juventus should not have been relegated, and only Moggi and Giraudo punished. And if Juventus should not have been relegated, Milan definitely should have been, as evidence clearly shows Galliani and Meani violated Article 6. If that doesn’t convince you of the discrepancies in punishments, look at the final suspensions handed down to the various people caught on tape: Moggi got a lifetime ban from football, Giraudo got a €20.000 fine, 5 year ban, and 3 years in jail. Many others got 2-5 year bans and/or jail time, and Meani got a 2 ½ year ban from football. But Galliani, “the old fox,” got out of the whole thing with only a 5 month ban, a fine, and a bonus of a Champions League trophy for his club. Does that even count as a slap on the wrist for one of the worst offenders in this case? And that trophy was also from a Champions League competition Milan should not have been in if justice had been served. The inconsistency of the sentences handed down in this scandal is simply unbelievable.

Did you get the blood off of your hands before you grabbed that trophy, Galliani?

But it gets better. If you’ve ever read any of my posts about Inter and wondered why I garner such an intense hatred for a team that is supposed to have just a “family” rivalry, now you will know why. Why was Inter never implicated in the original Calciopoli trial when pretty much all of the other big clubs were? The wiretaps for the investigation were performed by Telecom Italia, which was run at the time by a man who had been on Inter’s Board of Directors for over 10 years and later went on to become president of Pirelli, Inter’s sponsor. Guido Rossi was appointed by the FIGC president to oversee the Calciopoli investigation and was given additional powers for the scandal, he was also a long-time board member for Inter. After only 3 months in his position, he was forced to step down as many clubs complained about a conflict of interest. And remember when I mentioned previously that the prosecution’s evidence was not given to the defense, but rather “leaked” to the media? Inter’s vice president at the time also owned La Gazzetta dello Sport, which was also run by a couple of major investors in Inter, too. Bruno Bartolazzi is the head editor of Il Corriere dello Sport, and was also Inter’s Team Manager. How perfect for Inter to have so many friends in all the right places right when a scandal was about to break. It’s almost as if they knew all about it in the first place.

There were wiretaps of both Inter owner Massimo Moratti and then club president Giacinto Facchetti speaking to referees and referee designators, having them over for dinner and such, but most of those tapes mysteriously did not appear with the original set of wiretaps. Yes, that is the Moratti of multiple wire-tapping case fame. Perhaps even more miraculously, the wiretaps implicating Inter appeared right about the five year mark. You know, the statute of limitations in Italy? So despite a second Calciopoli trial, the evidence of which Palazzi said “Inter violated the article relative to sporting fraud with regards to the possibility of taking advantages in the standings” and also that they were "directly responsible for having secured an advantage in the league standings by conditioning the regular function of the referee sector," that evidence was never allowed in court. Ex-referee designee Bergamo actually said of all of the teams, Inter called him the most: “In particular I used to speak with Inter because they never used to win back then, and they always used to moan." Some things never change.

But what did change was that all of the new wiretaps showed conclusively what some had said all along: Juventus were the least guilty of those charged and should not have been relegated. Inter and Milan were two of the most guilty clubs, and absolutely should have been relegated. Only these newly found wiretaps were not admissible as evidence unless Moratti would waive the statute of limitations. But of course he wouldn’t, and rather accused everyone of an “unacceptable attack.” In my research, I could not find a shred of evidence that contradicted Inter’s guilt. Instead, from Inter’s side of things, all I found was “moaning.” Club representatives and fans alike complaining about the accusations, but all of the evidence held up. Even worse, Moratti used Facchetti’s death as a defense for not waiving the statute of limitations, as the club legend had died in September of 2006 and Moratti didn’t want to damage his memory.

They've been called gentlemen... I guess it's true what they say, that it's always the nice guys

But the despicable behaviors of a network of the Inter family who recorded the calls and carefully chose which ones to admit into evidence in the original trial as well as the baseless cries of innocence once the truth was revealed, and even their unwillingness to make things right by waiving the statute of limitations is nothing compared to what Inter gained. Obviously, the 2005-06 “paper” Scudetto, which was handed to them by the courts, despite more blood on their hands than Juventus could ever have. Then there was the demise of the great Juventus team, who had to sell so many of their big players, including both Patrick Viera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic directly to Inter. So Inter’s main rival was out of the picture in Serie B for 2006-07, and three of their rivals, Milan, Fiorentina, and Lazio were also docked points for that season. With a strengthened team thanks to Juve’s relegation and their other rivals crippled, of course they won the Scudetto in 2006-07. Their first Scudetto win on the pitch since 1988-89. Coincidence? Definitely not.

Having stepped on the backs of those they took down, Inter went on to win three more Scudetti in a row after that. Before that in their entire history, they had never won more than two in a row. Now, suddenly they win four in a row? They also won two Coppa Italia trophies, two Super Coppa trophies, a FIFA Club World Cup, a UEFA Super Cup trophy, and a Champions League trophy, too. They hadn’t even won the Champions League since 1965, and now they pull off a treble? Are you kidding me? Can you honestly say they won any of these fairly? That the advantages they gained from match fixing and the punishment of others didn’t help them to do things the club has never done before and will likely never do again? 

The shame and injustice of Calciopoli is immense, it is impossible to imagine how so much corruption could coexist with the beautiful game. But for me, the biggest shame is not the calls to the referee designators. The bigger shame is how the FIGC and everyone involved handled it. The biggest shame is the club who orchestrated it, completely evaded culpability, and then profited so much from the cheating. I hate Inter. I will never be able to respect the club off the pitch. That they now have the audacity to sing "Io non rubo il campionato ed in Serie B non son mai stato" ("I don't steal the championship and have never been in Serie B") in the stadiums just shows a complete lack of any moral decency whatsoever. Words cannot even describe the sheer disgust I have for Moratti and everyone who believes they deserved any of those titles.

The lowest depths humanity has to offer

I am disgusted by all of Calciopoli. Certainly Milan's involvement is my biggest shame as a fan. And I am also ashamed for the Milan fans who not only have no clue what Milan’s part in the scandal was, and how amazingly lucky we were to get that 7th Champions League trophy, but who then have the audacity to point fingers at Juventus and judge. In a scandal that no one could win from, and “justice” that was more akin to playing Russian roulette, Juventus took the bullet for an entire league. If you read this and still make jokes about Juve being relegated, how many Scudetti they have, etc., then you are no better than an Inter fan. There is nothing funny about Calciopoli. It destroyed an entire league and created scars that still impact all of Italian football, including the Italian National Team at this year’s World Cup. I don’t know if Italy will ever recover from it the way things are going. But if we as fans cannot look at the truth about Calciopoli and act accordingly, then we are only contributing more to Calcio’s biggest shame.

Special thanks to Aaron Giambattista for pointing me in the right direction to research this post

This post inspired by eight years of tears for my beloved calcio