PtG Article 31.01.2007

Poland sets fighting corruption higher than football interests

Football has become the first target in an anti-corruption drive in Poland. A few weeks ago the Polish sports minister suspended the entire board of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) after one member was arrested on suspicion of corruption and match fixing. The price for this action may be high but the goverment is willing to pay.

The arrest of PZPN board member Wit Zelasko was the latest in a two-year investigation  by prosecutors into corruption and match.fixing in Poland's domestic football leagues. And for sports minister Thomasz Lipiec it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

In July last year the sports minister had criticized the federation for failing to stop corruption  and announced an audit that could result in its board being suspended. After the arrest Lipiec  called on federation president Michal Listkiewicz and the  rest of the board to step down voluntarily.

"I am shocked because it is an unacceptable situation for a man with corruption charges against him to sit on the top management of any governing board. I think the  whole board should resign," the minister said to Associated Press.

The board refused to resign voluntarily and  then Lipiec suspended the entire board and appointed Andrzej  Rusko as emergency administrator until a new board can be elected.

Unpopular decision

With this decision the sports minister has not made himself popular in football circles. A number of board members want to fight Lipiec's decision because they believe that they should be not held responsible for the behaviour of just one board member.

Further afield FIFA and UEFA have reacted strongly against the minister's interference in the affairs of the Polish Football Association.

"The PZPN executive committee is the only body that FIFA and UEFA recognise in relation to all football matters in Poland.  We are surprised at the decision of Polish minister of sport Tomasz Lipiec to appoint a commissioner to head the Polish Football Association (PZPN) in a move that violates the principle of autonomy that applies throughout the sports movement," a joint statement from the two organisations reads.

Both organisations are considering whether to suspend Polish football  from international competition such as FIFA has previously done to countries like Greece, Iran and Kenya over issues of government interference.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that Poland together with Ukraine has been shortlisted to bid for hosting the 2012 European Championships, and there is widespread concern that the Polish sports minister's actions have damaged the bid's chance of a successful outcome.

Poland determined to tackle corruption  in football

However,  the sports minister has full support from Poland's prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

"Even if we pay a price - I hope we will not - the price is worth paying," the prime minister told state Radio 1 last week.

The sports minister has also pointed out that if the board had stepped down voluntarily the situation vis-a-vis FIFA and UEFA could have been very different.

"The self-resignation of  board members would result in a court decision appointing a commissioner following a motion by the relevant minister. This would change  our situation with regard to FIFA and diminish the risk of suspending the national  team and Polish clubs form international games," he said to Polskie Radio.

Regardless of the outcome of this situation, the football  community in Poland must be prepared for greater scrutiny as the Polish government has set up a new organisation to tackle corruption in Poland.  According to Polski Radio the first target for the 1500 strong Anti-Corruption Bureau will be the football scene.