Mario Čižmek: Why I became a match-fixer
Former Croatian football player Mario Čižmek talks about his personal encounter with match-fixing at the opening session of Play the Game 2013. Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game
28.10.2013By Mario Čižmek
Speech by Mario Čižmek, Aarhus, Denmark, 29 October 2013:
My experience with corruption in football
My name is Mario Čižmek, born on 23 December 1975 in Zagreb.
My career began in NK Zagreb where I signed my first professional contract. Since then I have played approximately 250 games for the Croatian 1st League. I have also played for the national team for U21.
Until the moment of this case that is called OFFSIDE, I played in a professional and responsible manner. I was completely honest sports and anything I achieved was down to hard work and my love for sport.
Unfortunately, in life sometimes things happen that we don't want to happen and that we never imagined in our worst nightmares. But it happens and I am a witness for that.
I agreed to speak about my experience with corruption in football because I want to warn all sportsmen against falling into the trap of match fixing. They should listen to me so they can recognise negative circumstances and can intervene and in that sense avoid unhappiness.
During the season 2009/2010, I played for NK Sesvete that fought for survival in the first football league. The situation in the club was exceptionally bad, there was a financial crisis, bad conditions for training and people on the board they did not care for the "employees" and that was us - the players.
I and the other players had not been paid a regular salary for 14 months and I owed money on taxes and my pension.
We had no money, and we no longer spoke about training or football, but only about how we were going to survive. Every other day we would ask whether we would be paid, and they would say "Yes, on Monday". Then we say, "OK on Monday". But there wold be no pay on Monday - only a promise to be paid Wednesday, and then no money that day either.
It went on for months, and the whole team sank into depression.
The only way out was to move to another club, but the problem was that our club demanded a compensation that was way too high. We lodged a claim with the Croatian Football Federation Arbitrary Court to terminate our contracts and get our dues paid. But those processes take a long time so we were forced to play for the club for at least six more months and maybe a whole year.
I came to training as the rest of the team without any will, positive sports energy and from day to day we were sinking deeper and deeper in our spirits. We did not have anybody to turn to because we were unprotected and left to our own devices. This was the situation that was the best for the criminals - they could create their own success on the backs of others.
Those depressive days, one person showed up, and it was a person that was known to all us from the football society. It was a person that was a member of the Zagreb Football Association and he promised us a way out of the crisis, and he said it was in cooperation with other clubs and the board of our club. He wanted us to fix the results of some of the games during the rest of the season. It was about six games that were not important for the future of our club because we were already certain to fall out of the 1st league.
And that is how it all began. One game after the other there was constant pressure, we felt our souls were being eaten and we were deeply ashamed. The feeling was terrible but I could not go back. The organiser was present everywhere in our lives and he put pressure on us. Each game he would call us and tell us how and what we had to do to fulfill his expectations and I sold my pride for small money compared to the loss that I feel and that I am living with today.
The agony lasted until the end of the championships and on 8 June I was arrested in my home in front of my daughters. The stiuation was terrible: Until yesterday I was in their eyes a father and a football player and in only a few minutes, I became their shame.
I was in jail for 47 days and it felt as if I was dreaming. But unfortunately it was my reality. When I came out of jail, the case went to court. It was followed by the media, and that was an even heavier weight on me.
I was sentenced to ten months in prison and the authorities want me to pay back a sum of money. And worst of all, I can never play football again in Croatia because I have a lifelong ban from the Croatian National Assocation.
Today I am asking myself, was my career worth so much that I could gamble for the money that was not even close to what I have been playing for but had not been paid. Of course, I am not running away from my responsibility, and I realise the mistakes I made and I will be responsible for what I have done. But nobody can ever give back to me what I had before the Offside affair and that is the sporting spirit of doing your best and taking pride in it.
"Importance of the clean game" is the main precondition for success in all fields of life, and also in sports because only one bad step can ruin everything that we have been giving our lives for through training and sacrifice. Everything is vasted.
Today, everybody is aware that there is more and more crime in professional sports - especially in football because we are talking about big money, and sports is a good platform for those that want to come to money in an illegal way.
Sportsmen must recognise these situations in time and they must be able to inform leaders and other responsible people that work together with agencies to help prevent them falling into a trap and end up like me.