Portuguese soccer executive claims bribery, fraud in market
At first glance Portuguese soccer has never been healthier: The national team is the champion of Europe, star player Cristiano Ronaldo has been voted the world’s best, and international clubs are shelling out millions for talent produced in the country.
But, for Bruno de Carvalho, president of 18-time champ Sporting Clube de Portugal, those successes are undermined by a dark underbelly of bribery and corruption that can only be tackled by outside intervention and regulation.
“For four years I’m here saying the government needs to put a hand on this,” de Carvalho, an outspoken voice since his election to office in 2013, said in an interview at Sporting’s Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon. “The government needs to say: ‘Enough.’”
Portugal’s top three clubs compete for popularity in the nation of 10 million people, and it’s not uncommon for their leaders to engage in public spats. This month, Benfica, Portugal’s biggest club and Sporting’s arch rival, was accused of inappropriate contact with referees following a leak of emails to local media. That came about a decade after a corruption scandal that ended with Pinto da Costa — longstanding president of 2004 European Cup winner Porto — being given a two-year suspended soccer ban in a non-criminal investigation for attempted bribery.
Benfica denies allegations of acting improperly. Portugal’s Publico newspaper reported public prosecutors are looking into the matter.
Sitting at a wooden desk that’s overlooked by oversized photos of Ronaldo and Luis Figo, who like Ronaldo was a former Sporting player who went on to become a soccer icon with clubs including Real Madrid, de Carvalho raised his voice in frustration as he described how soccer’s $5-billion global trading market is open to fraud, with unethical and illegal behaviour particularly common in Portugal.
“It’s very easy to steal money from a club,” he said, before going on to describe the process of illicit payments being made. “You don’t even need to open a bank account, it’s very easy.”
De Carvalho’s comments come a year after Joao Vale e Azevedo, a former Benfica president, was released from jail after serving time for crimes including the embezzlement of funds from the transfer of players. Separately, authorities in Spain, France and the U.K. are investigating player transfers and contracts following a massive leak of documents that provided a rare glimpse soccer finance.