The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the largest soccer organization in the world. It has had its ups and downs over the years, with great fan reception countered by stories of matches being rigged. The league, as well as Spain’s La Liga and others, have uncovered instances of match-fixing lately that have brought embarrassment to the game, and to sports in general, and it seems that the fraud has extended across the entire European continent – if not the world. The latest example comes as police in Spain have turned over to UEFA evidence that certain prominent soccer matches in Cyprus could have been unfairly played.
According to the Spanish media outlet El Confidencial, UEFA has received information that the Cyprus Cup, as well as a number of soccer games in the country, were fixed in 2017 and 2018. A known match-fixing ring in Spain was recently uncovered, and the subsequent investigation into that illegal operation determined that the Cypriot games were included. The allegations appear to center on Spanish soccer player Jorge Larena, who played for a team based in Larnaca, Cyprus from 2014 to 2019.
El Confidencial explains, “The plot had also started acting abroad. The wiretaps made it possible to discover that the leaders of the group had a contact in Cyprus that provided them with data on rigged parties in that country. That is the part that interests UEFA. The network’s link was Jorge Larena, a former player of Atlético de Madrid (2001-2006) who, in the summer of 2015, signed for one of the great Cypriot teams, AEK Larnaca, the most important club in the city where the car exploded bomb on January 17. Larena remained on the squad of this team until July 2019, when he hung up his cleats.”
The referenced car bomb explosion targeted a Cyprus soccer referee and is said to be linked to match-fixing at a minimum of three Second Division games and two Cup championship games. The same group behind the assassination is said to be involved in a separate altercation in Greece, where former Real Sociedad player Darko Kovacevic was gunned down on January 6. UEFA called upon Spanish authorities to help try to bring an end to the run on murders and match-fixing after details of the La Liga corruption were made public.
Spain’s gambling regulator, the Directorate General for the Regulation of Gambling, believes that four matches – all involving Larena’s team – were involved in match-fixing. However, they’re not believed to be isolated incidents. According to sources close to the investigation, which is still taking place, “What has been discovered goes beyond simple players leaving goals to win some money with bets. What is in Cyprus is an institutional corruption, at the highest level, in which clubs, referees and even official bodies that distribute victories, complete tournaments and classifications to compete in European competitions, and then move large amounts of money to the bookmakers to make those actions profitable.”
Another Cypriot club linked to the match-fixing, Apoel, issued a statement asserting that the allegations were baseless and “slanderous.” AEK, the club for whom Larena played in the country, denied any knowledge about the activity.