JUERGEN JANSEN
Jan Pitman  /  AP
Referee Juergen Jansen, at a press conference Friday in Passau, southern Germany, denied allegations that he accepted bribes to fix soccer matches.
By
NBC News
updated 2/4/2005 2:40:58 PM ET 2005-02-04T19:40:58

Only 16 months before the World Cup tournament kicks off in Germany, this soccer-crazy nation has been hit by one of the biggest scandals in German sports history.

The controversy has dominated newscasts and newspaper headlines, pushing German political news to the inside pages.

It began on Jan. 19 when four Berlin referees reported to the German Soccer Federation, the DFB, that they suspected another referee, 25-year-old Robert Hoyzer, had manipulated match results.

For three-time world champion Germany, which hosted the world's most important soccer tournament only once before, in 1974, the scandal has cast a dark shadow in the crucial runup to the event.

After an investigation by the DFB, Hoyzer admitted that a betting ring run by the Croatian mafia paid him to fix the results of three lower-division games and a German Cup first-round match.

Press reports claimed that Hoyzer received between $65,000 and $85,000 for his "favors" — a large sum of money for referees, who receive $4,500 per German-Cup game and $2,000 per lower-division game.

Hoyzer also reportedly has linked other officials to the scandal. On Friday, a referee in the top division of German soccer, the Bundesliga, denied allegations that he, too, had fixed matches.

“My children can’t go to school, they’re being spat on and chased around,” Juergen Jansen said during a tearful press conference. “It’s like a witch hunt in the Middle Ages.”

New sport — ‘betting’
In a country where soccer, tennis and Formula One racing are as sacred as pro-football and major league baseball in the United States, the nation's sports fans are suddenly learning about a new "sport" — betting.

This week, investigators raided 32 apartments in 10 German states in connection with the scandal.

The further they dig, the more complex the criminal activity appears to be. Hoyzer's attorney  suggested recently that the three Croats arrested in this case might be former East European secret service agents, using their betting agency to launder illicit gains.

"It could well be possible that the attorney is right, but we have to be careful with premature accusations," said Jochen Bouhs, a sports journalist with ZDF. "I think that this story will grow to an enormous extent."

Front-page story
Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper published the names and pictures of 13 suspects on its front page this week.

The revelation triggered outcries from Bundesliga representatives, who demanded that the names of suspects should not be "dragged through the mud.”

Meantime, the government is anxious about the impact on the World Cup, one of the most watched sporting events in the world.

Three-time world champion Germany had already begun promoting the festival of soccer, hoping to draw rich advertising revenues.

Now, in order to avoid bigger damage, Interior Minister Otto Schily, also the sports minister, has pressed for a quick investigation.

Heidelberg's Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung newspaper noted, "The chances of a referee to pull out a betting coupon from his pants during the World Championships in 2006 are, admittedly, slim. However, Germany, as the host of this international competition, is now immediately associated with corruption."

Negative impact?
No doubt, this scandal sheds a very bad light on German soccer, but just how great the loss of credibility is among soccer fans is yet to be seen.

In 1971, the number of spectators decreased considerably after a small scandal in German soccer became public.

So far, the first direct impact of the scandal was noticed by Oddset, the only state-certified betting agency in Germany.

"Compared to last year, our turnover on the last weekend in January decreased from $12 million to $10 million," Oddset's head of marketing, Wolfgang Feldner, told the German Press Agency. "But I do not think that the loss can be solely attributed to the Hoyzer case," he added.

Yet, ZDF’s Bouhs believes that some things could turn for the better.  "The number of spectators in German soccer stadiums might increase, rather than decrease. Fans are now curious; they will want to take a first-hand look at developments."

And Bouhs could be right. When ticket sales for the games of the 2006 championships started on Tuesday, the organizing committee received 500,000 orders within the first 12 hours.

Lena-Maria Reers is an intern at NBC News. Andy Eckardt is a producer based in Mainz, Germany.

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