Thu, 10 Mar 2005


Blatter backs professional referees to fight match-fixing

Associated Press Zurich, Switzerland

FIFA president Sepp Blatter renewed calls on Tuesday for professional soccer referees to handle games worldwide in a bid to avoid a repeat of the German match-fixing scandal.

"If someone is not refereeing in professional football as an amateur but as a professional himself, he will think three times (before cheating) because of the possibility of losing his profession," Blatter said after a FIFA executive committee meeting.

FIFA's 24-member executive committee spent a large part of its regular two-day meeting discussing the German crisis, officials said. Referee Robert Hoyzer, at the center of the scandal, has admitted to fixing or attempting to fix seven league games.

"Human beings are human beings and will remain human beings," Blatter said. "They will always be subject to temptation, and we have to try to reduce that temptation."

Hoyzer, who was arrested last month by German authorities, is facing a lifetime ban and a large fine from the German soccer federation.

Blatter said the FIFA executive committee expressed "full confidence" in the German federation's handling of the scandal.

"In our game, as in every other game, people try to gain an advantage," Blatter said. "If there's evidence that even one referee is involved in corruption, that is painful."

As well as the German scandal, five teams have been docked points in the Czech league for rigged games while a first- division game in Belgium is under investigation.

"We have to ensure that situations as in Germany are not repeated," Blatter said.

He added that the issue of professional referees has been on FIFA's agenda for a decade but that national associations have failed to discuss it in detail.

"With the new situation now, we have another incentive," he said.

There are a range of rules for referees across the soccer world, Blatter said.

They are salaried in the English Premier League and the French first division, as well as the Mexican, Brazilian and Argentine leagues. In Italy and Spain, their contracts only cover the soccer season. German referees are paid per game.

While referees could never expect to earn as much as top soccer stars, they could be paid the same as a "middle-level professional" in their league, Blatter said without elaborating.

"There's so much money in professional football that there should be the money," he said. "A referee who is no longer in a hobby but who is officiating professionally will have another mind-set."