Polish soccer plagued by cronyism and corruption | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 06.06.2012
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Polish soccer plagued by cronyism and corruption

Very few people in Poland believe that their national team has the chance of advancing in the Euro 2012. Recurrent scandals and corruption are largely to blame.

Poland lacks a tried and tested national soccer team. There are many talented Polish players, but most of them play abroad. That's the case with 18 of the 26 players who are on the national team. The goalkeepers for the team, Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny, play for the powerhouse English club Arsenal.

Polish players are well represented in Germany, above all in the club Borussia Dortmund - also known as "Polonia Dortmund" - where among others Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski play. Grzegorz Wojtkowiak has signed with TSV 1860 Munich, and Adam Matuszczyk changed from FC Cologne to Fortuna Düsseldorf.

But Polish soccer clubs lie far behind the European competition. In the UEFA five year rankings, Poland comes in at 20th place, which is currently viewed as a success. It is, after all, the best ranking in the past nine years.

Corruption allegations

According to former Polish national goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, the Polish Soccer Association is to blame for Polish clubs being unsuccessful.

Grzegorz Lato speaking to Polish football activists after they chose him as new president of Poland's Football Federation to succeed Michal Listkiewicz.

Lato is a controversial figure in Poland

"The association is run by people who have driven Polish soccer to the brink of catastrophe," said Tomaszewski, who is known for being "the man who held up England" in the qualification match at Wembley Stadium for the 1973 World Cup. Grzegorz Lato, the current president of the Polish Soccer Association, played with Tomaszewski on that legendary national team. But the two men are by no means friends.

For soccer fans, Lato has been a controversial figure for years. In November 2011, the Polish media published recordings in which Lato and the secretary general of the soccer association, Zdzislaw Krecina, held dubious conversations about new construction projects for the association. The Polish sports minister, Joanna Mucha, called in the public prosecutor and the ant-corruption office in reaction to the corruption allegations.

Lato denies the allegations and has filed charges for libel. The scandal, however, has had consequences. Krecina was let go from his position as secretary general. Lato managed to hold on to his position, despite the protests of the fan community.

Fixed matches

In 2008, Polish soccer was shaken to its core when it came to light that match results were being manipulated and licenses distributed in crooked ways. The former president of the Upper Silesian club GKS Katowice, Piotr Dziurowicz, got sick of the corruption and decided to inform the police. He revealed that matches between Polar Wroclaw and Zaglebie Lubin had been fixed. At the time, current Dortmund defender Lukas Piszczek played for Zaglebie. In the summer of 2008, Piszczek admitted that he and his club bought the match against Cracow for 25,000 euros in order to qualify for the UEFA cub.

Lukasz Piszczek of German first division, Bundesliga, soccer club Hertha BSC Berlin is pictured during the club's official team photo shooting in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 6, 2007.

Piszczek continues to play soccer despite his connection to the Zaglebie affair

That was not an isolated incident in Polish soccer. The public prosecutor currently has on-going investigations against 17 clubs. In the Polish Extra League, the highest class in the country, only six clubs have been absolved of corruption charges.

The clubs were demoted, but subsequently received an amnesty and were punished only with point deductions and fines. Piszczek was sentenced to a year in prison on probation and had to pay a 37,000 euro fine. He's allowed to continue playing soccer, including for the Polish national team.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," said national coach Franciszek Smuda, who previously coach scandal-tainted Zaglebie Lubin. Most of the fans agree with Smuda's statement.

The eagle affair

In addition to the corruption scandals, there are also the alcohol excesses of many polish footballers. Some have been punished, others haven't. Polish society is divided over the issue. Some want to finally move on from the corruption and scandal so they can concentration exclusively on the game. Others are demanding a radical renewal of the Polish Soccer Association by giving it a new face and new institutional structures.

The straw that finally broke the camel's back was the so-called "Eagle Affair." In the fall of 2011, the association decided that the Polish coat of arms on the national team's jerseys should be replaced with the logo of the soccer association for marketing reasons. The whole country was outraged. Association chief Lato finally had to issue an apology and the white eagle was put back on the team's jerseys. Optimists say that's a good sign: Perhaps the Polish national team will do better than expected in the Euro 2012.

Author: Elzbieta Stasik / slk
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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