French Olympic handball gold medallists at centre of match-fixing scandal
Thursday, 27 September 2012
September 27 - A match-fixing scandal involving three of France's Olympic gold medal winning handball team is being investigated after it was claimed that the wives and girlfriends of players at the country's top club Montpellier won tens of thousands of Euros at the bookmakers after they deliberately threw a game.
The Française des Jeux (FDJ), a Government organisation that oversees all betting activities in France, alerted officials because it suspects that wives and girlfriends of eight players were forewarned when they placed bets that Montpellier would lose what should have been a straightforward game against Brittany team Cesson-Sévigné.
The FDJ raised the alert after a total of €5,000 (£4,000/$6,500) they bet at three tobacconist-bookmakers netted them a haul of €200,000 (£159,000/$257,000).
They suspended betting on the match because of "unusual activity," including a sharp spike in the number of bets on the day of the game.
Montpellier – nicknamed "Les Experts" having won the French title every year since 2008 – lost the away match, on May 12, 31-28.
Magistrates have now officially opened an inquiry into the allegations.
But they will have to wait until the team comes back from Germany where it is competing in the European Handball Champions League before they can start interviewing the players.
Montpellier are due to play against Flensburg today, before returning to the French capital to play Paris Saint-Germain in a top-of-the-table league clash on Saturday (September 29).
Montpellier President Remy Levy said in a statement that a preliminary investigation was under way but any information involving it is covered by French secrecy laws.
"All the team's players are of course aware of the rules on sports betting and on the strict ban on participating in any way," he said.
"Conclusions will be drawn by the club based on the result of any investigation."
Four members of the French squad that won the Olympic gold medal in London last month for the second consecutive Games play for Montepellier.
They are Samuel Honrubia, Nikola Karabatić, William Accambray and Michaël Guigou.
Honrubia did not play in the match against Cesson-Sévigné because of injury.
Handball is a hugely popular sport in France and the revelations have caused widespread shock.
"It's simply unimaginable that Montpellier's handballers could sink so low," said Patrick Vignal, Montpellier's Deputy Mayor and the Councillor in charge of sport.
"I find it hard to believe that such rottenness could have crept in like this."
Cesson-Sévigné club President Philippe Barberet was just as taken aback.
"I am devastated, I really don't understand it," he said.
"If the inquiry shows that these players actually did this, it would be a tragedy.
"It would be terrible for French handball's image, especially as some of the accused players are on the national team and are very well-paid."
Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron has praised FDJ's "vigilance".
"There is not a country or sport that are beyond the risk of fraud linked to fixed matches," she said.
"France is completely mobilised to fight against this major threat, with warning systems that have shown their effectiveness not only in physical betting networks but also online betting."