Under scrutiny from FIFA, UEFA and Polish authorities, Poland’s corruption-riddled PZPN football federation is set to elect new leaders Thursday expected to red card graft as Poland gears up to co-host Euro-2012 with Ukraine.
“Polish football is a mass of financial scandals, corruption and fraud”, Poland’s iconic 1970’s goalie Jan Tomaszewski told AFP.
He is among the strongest critics of the PZPN’s current leadership, but he is by no means alone. The Polish media, politicians and fans also generally believe the Polish federation needs an overhaul.
“The most popular slogan in Polish stadiums is ‘Down with the PZPN’,” Tomaszewski said.
A row over how to clean-up the federation between the Polish government and world and Europe football authorities FIFA and UEFA came to a head in early October.
Asked to do so by Poland’s Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki, a Polish Olympic Committee arbitration tribunal installed an administrator to head the PZPN.
Adamant to preserve the independence of national football federations, FIFA and UEFA immediately threatened to suspend Poland from 2010 World Cup qualifiers and even to review the decision for Poland to hold the Euro 2012 championships.
Poland backed down and agreed to pull the administrator from the PZPN and for elections to flesh out a new leadership on October 30.
A fresh round of legal action against senior PZPN officials came last week, with corruption charges pressed against Poland’s former national team manager Janusz Wojcik and PZPN Secretary-General Zdzislaw Krecina, one of the four candidates standing in the body’s Thursday leadership race.
A total of 158 people — including referees, players, club officials and PZPN members — have now been snared in a vast football graft probe.
Repeated match-fixing scandals have plagued all levels of the league for years.
Polish tax authorities also seized 2.3 million euros in unpaid taxes from PZPN coffers this week.
According to sports ministry officials, the corruption probe against the PZPN will last for “several months”.
Sports minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki said he wanted certainty that all senior PZPN leaders are in the clear and called on candidates in the election to make sure they “have nothing on their conscience”.
“If they do, it will be an embarrassment for them and for Polish football when the police and prosecutors will arrest PZPN senior officials,” Drzewiecki warned.
“The elections will be a turning point in Polish football,” according to PZPN spokesperson Zbigniew Kozminski.
“As a fan, I have my doubts,” Poland’s Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said. Both he and football-mad liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk are known to regularly play in matches.
“Polish football is a social disease, like alcoholism. We can beat it, but we need to be calm and patient,” says Michal Kleiber, president of the independent electoral committee called by FIFA, UEFA, the PZPN and the Polish government to supervise Thursday’s election.
Four candidates are in the running for the PZPN’s presidency including two former Polish international players Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek.
It remains unclear to what extent the situation within PZPN may wreak havoc with Poland’s Euro 2012 preparations.
According to Minister Drzewiecki everything is proceeding according to plan.
“At the current phase of preparations the main responsibility rests with the government. It’s not the PZPN that is building stadiums, airports, hotels and other infrastructures for Euro-2012,” he told AFP.
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