‘Match-fixing bigger than football realises’
Burkina Faso coach Paul Put, who was suspended in Belgium over match-fixing claims, on Tuesday said that rigging games was more widespread than football realised, with top players implicated in the practice.
The Belgian told reporters on the eve of his side's Africa Cup of Nations semi-final that he was not surprised to hear about revelations on Monday that European police had unearthed a criminal network targeting hundreds of matches.
"Match-fixing has always existed in football," said Put, who was suspended for three years after being implicated in a rigging scandal while coach of Belgian first division side Lierse.
"For sure football has a bigger problem than it realises. Let's be honest, if it happens at Champions League level it's widespread but it's not a new thing. A lot of big international players are involved in match fixing.
"But I think FIFA are trying hard to tackle it, it will be difficult but I think you can get rid of it. Look at what cycling is doing with more and more effective doping controls so, yes, I think it is possible to stop it in football."
Put's rare disclosure about his own brush with corruption which led him to leave Belgium for Africa, said he had been caught up in an epidemic that had spread across the national game.
"The whole of Belgian football was sick at that time," he said.
"I was threatened by the mafia, my children were threatened, the mafia threatened me with weapons and things like that so it's not nice to talk about these things but this is the reality.
"I was forced into it. But fixing is a big word. At that time Belgian football was in a bad way. There was no hope, no money. It's not that I was involved in match-fixing, not at all, but it's been portrayed like that in the media.
"And remember, I was just the coach. I had to listen to people above me and the players as well. I was made the scapegoat but other teams were doing the same, not only Lierse."
Put likened his case to that of Lance Armstrong, the disgraced US cyclist who was stripped of his seven Tour de france titles and handed a life ban for doping, saying he had been made an example of.
"I was never banned by FIFA. I was banned for three years in Belgium, without any reason," he said. "But as FIFA said I could work elsewhere we didn't make any trouble in Belgium."
His suspension led him to Africa, where he coached Gambia for two-and-a-half years before taking over the helm at Burkina Faso, and leading them to Wednesday's semi-final against Ghana.
"It's funny. Everyone is turning to me now and calling me from Belgium for radio and television interviews," he added.
Given his chequered past and remarkable success with the Burkinabe Put feels he has something to prove back in Europe.
"My ambition now is to be in charge of a big team in a big country. I want to prove something again."
Put's problems in Belgium are not over yet however as he is one of a group of 40 due to come up for trial in relation to the 2004-2005 corruption affair.
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