Brazil’s lower house of Congress opened a probe into a football match-fixing scandal that has rocked the sport in the South American nation on Wednesday.
It is the third investigation into evidence of wrongdoing by football players who allegedly made sure to get bookings and gave away penalties in exchange for bribes.
The congressional inquiry will last at least 120 days and will hear testimony from players, executives of sports betting companies and club officials. Brazil’s federal police and the district attorney’s office of the state of Goias are also involved in the case, and both bodies will be able to use the findings of Congress in their own investigations.
The 34 lawmakers who will take part in the inquiry will meet again on Tuesday when they will vote on their first requests to obtain testimonies and documents.
The first investigation of the attorney’s office in Goias showed that players were offered between $10,000 and $20,000 to perform specific actions, like receiving yellow cards and giving away penalty kicks. Alleged criminals would then profit from betting sites.
“Our intention is to do away with these crimes in Brazilian football, which hurt the passion of millions of fans,” said Congressman Felipe Carreras. “This is the biggest scandal of Brazil’s football history. The credibility of our football is in jeopardy. We don’t know whether a given yellow card, a red card or a penalty was supposed to happen or not.”
Carreras also said one of the goals of the congressional inquiry is to feed new legislation to regulate sports betting in the South American country. Several top-flight division clubs have those companies as their sponsors.
The investigation kicked off in November, focusing on three matches, and has widened to 11 games, though some were in lower leagues.
The matches spanned the second half of 2022 and the first three months of this year. A district attorney told The Associated Press on Monday that the scandal has potentially international reach. Local media reported that suspected criminals mentioned having contacts in the United States, Greece and Lithuania.
Days earlier, a court in Goias accepted charges against 16 people accused of taking part in the scheme, including eight football players in Brazil’s first and second divisions. On Tuesday, Brazil’s sports court suspended all those players.
Former Flamengo chairman and lawmaker Eduardo Bandeira de Mello told the AP the congressional inquiry will be key for the investigation’s visibility.
“This will have an educational effect. Any young athlete who tries to get into a scheme like this will think twice,” said de Mello.
The lawmaker chaired Flamengo when Colorado Rapids midfielder Max Alves played for the club. Alves was named in the probe, though not charged, and his MLS club suspended him. Alves has not commented publicly.
“I am very sad about that. We always had a very affectionate relationship with these players coming from Flamengo’s youth divisions,” de Mello said. “All I can do is to hope that his participation was the smallest possible.”
Brazil’s government is reportedly preparing an executive order to tax sports betting companies, which local clubs are already protesting about.
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