Albania’s Skenderbeu handed 10-year ban over match-fixing in worst ever UEFA punishment

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 29, 2018 19:28

Albania’s Skenderbeu handed 10-year ban over match-fixing in worst ever UEFA punishment

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  • Reacting to the UEFA decision, Skenderbeu's President Ardian Takaj said the club is convinced of its innocence and will appeal the decision

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, March 29 – Albania’s Skenderbeu has been handed a 10-year ban from European competition by UEFA over match fixing and fined €1 million in the worst ever punishment for a European club unless the Court of Arbitration for Sport decides otherwise in the expected appeal that Albania’s best club of the past decade is expected to file.

UEFA’s disciplinary body has handed the ban over 50 matched Skenderbeu is suspected to have fixed in the Champions League and Europa League campaigns as well as in the Albanian Superliga and in friendlies since 2011.

The punishment had already been warned by UEFA’s ethics and disciplinary inspectors who said the one-year ban for Skenderbeu in 2015 was only a “preliminary ban and that the UEFA disciplinary bodies were considering real disciplinary measures.”

Skenderbeu’s punishment is the harshest the European football governing body has ever handed to any club and chances are that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could in the best-case scenario only reduce Skenderbeu’s 10-year ban.

Back in 2010, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a UEFA eight-year Europe-wide ban on Macedonian club FC Pobeda for match-fixing over a single 2004 Champions League tie with an Armenian club.

Reacting to the UEFA decision, Skenderbeu’s President Ardian Takaj said the club is convinced of its innocence and will appeal the decision.

“We are clean of this story, it was an expected decision. We are convinced of our innocence and even if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds this decision, we will address Switzerland’s Federal Court,” said Takaj, the owner of a 75 percent majority stake in Skenderbeu.

Last February, UEFA said its disciplinary inspectors involved in Skenderbeu’s investigation received anonymous death threats, presumably intended to intimidate them and stop them carrying out their work, but Skenderbeu dismissed any involvement.

Thousands of fans packed Korça’s main boulevard in Feb. 21 in a peaceful march to protest and petition against UEFA disciplinary proceedings that could see Skenderbeu banned for up to ten years from European competition on match-fixing allegations.

“Don’t kill our dream,” “We live football, We love Skenderbeu,” “Our city is not a threat, our city wants justice,”   Skenderbeu, our dream” were some of the slogans fans carried during the march in Korça, the southeastern Albanian city known as the “the little Paris of Albania,” and where football has been one of the main city entertainment in the past decade following Skenderbeu’s domination of the national championship and its two historic appearances at the Europa League group stage.

Petitioners said punishing Skenderbeu, a club named after Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg whose 550th death anniversary this year Albania is marking as the Pan-national Skanderbeg Year, would also be a severe blow to Skanderbeg’s figure.

UEFA banned Skenderbeu from European competition over match fixing allegations in two Champions League qualifiers and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015.

“The case affirms the reliability of UEFA’s betting fraud detection system in identifying abnormal betting patterns on matches played by the Albanian club at European and domestic levels,” UEFA said in mid-2016 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld its one-year ban.

The Korça-based team are the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years and have claimed six Superliga titles since 2011.

Skenderbeu are favorites to win this year’s domestic Superliga title with a comfortable 15-point lead over second placed Kukes this season, but winning the championship will not take them to Champions League or Europa League qualifying campaigns in case CAS upholds the decision.

A 10-year ban and a €1 million fine could give a severe blow to Skenderbeu’s future.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 29, 2018 19:28