WARSAW: Less than 200 days before Euro 2012 kicks off, co-host Poland remains haunted by graft scandals and hooliganism which keep tarnishing the image of its football scene.
Sports Minister Joanna Mucha has called in the anti-graft squad as rumours swirl around ex-international Grzegorz Lato, head of Poland’s football association, the PZPN.
Lato, already under pressure over his management style, and PZPN secretary-general Zdzislaw Krecina were heard in a leaked recording discussing profits to be made from building a new headquarters. Krecina was axed as secretary-general on Wednesday by the PZPN, which did not elaborate.
Lato, at the helm since 2008, has rubbished suggestions of wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have received recordings of other PZPN officials, however, stoking talk that yet another scandal will erupt.
Since 2005, Polish football has been rocked by repeated corruption cases, largely over match-fixing.
Over 600 individuals have been jailed or are being prosecuted — including players, referees, club officials and middle-men — and a handful of clubs from various divisions have been relegated as punishment.
“This isn’t over yet,” Wieslaw Bilski, the prosecutor steering the probes, told AFP.
For conservative opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, it is time for a clean sweep.
“We need to apply a cure against this severe illness which is damaging the sport,” said the ex-premier, whose party was in power from 2005 to 2007 and made fighting corruption a plank of its policies.
“It’s time to create a new association with an entirely new guard”.
Kaczynski and Lato stand in rival political camps, as the PZPN chief was a senator for the left, which governed from 2001 to 2005.
Poland’s current centrist government won power in 2007. In 2008 it sacked the PZPN leadership, appointing an administrator pending the election of a new board.
But that foul of global football’s governing body FIFA, which bars political meddling.
Facing a ban from the qualifying race for the 2010 World Cup — and even Euro 2012 — the government climbed down.
The leadership was nonetheless axed by a PZPN congress which elected Lato as a new broom.
Lato symbolises Polish football’s glory days of Olympic gold in 1972, silver in 1976, and third place at the World Cup in 1974 and 1982.
He was the 1974 tournament’s top scorer with seven goals. But he has fallen out with fans amid underwhelming preparations for Euro 2012.
Like fellow-hosts Ukraine, Poland have a guaranteed berth and must rely on friendlies to get ready.
The atmosphere around Poland’s games, as well as league matches, has also grown tense amid a government anti-hooligan drive, with plans including fast-track trials in stadiums and electronic tagging.
Concerns heightened after Poland fans clashed with security forces at an away friendly in Lithuania in March and snowballed when May’s Polish Cup final was marred by trouble.
In addition, hooligans and far-right radicals joined forces to battle police during a rally on November 11, Poland’s independence day.
The police are tackling gangs that straddle hooliganism and organised crime such as drug dealing and racketeering.
“We’ve set ourselves the goal of getting rid of the bulk of these people before Euro 2012. We’re working systematically,” national police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski told AFP.
“Since the start of the year we’ve arrested 400 criminals who came to stadiums to settle scores which had nothing to do with sport,” he added.
Police estimates put the hooligan hardcore at up to 5,000 in this nation of 38 million, but Sokolowski played down worries.
“It’s a while since we’ve had trouble in stadiums and I’m convinced that they’ll be places where people will be safe,” he said.