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  • Did Juventus Cheat?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    MAY 7, 2006 Italy will be watching soccer with a keen eye today to see if the storied club Juventus wins its twenty-ninth league title. But they will also be watching to see if the referee on the field gives special treatment to the team after accusations that Juventus General Director Luciano Moggi arranged to have certain refs assigned to his teams' games last season. UEFA and the Italian federation will investigate these allegations.

    To understand the gravity of these allegations, you have to know a couple of things. First, Juventus is the Yankees of Italian soccer. They spend lots of money on the world's best players and they have won the scudetto more than any other team. As a result, people either love or hate them in extreme ways. Second, for years, Italians, who tend to be conspiracy theorists by nature, have been accusing Juventus of cheating. It is the only way to explain why the same team wins year after year, say the fans of opposing teams.

    Before this last scandal, the Italian league and legal officials investigated whether the team was giving its players performance enhancing drugs. After hours of interviews and a public spectacle, the team beat the rap even though some doctors who had worked with Juve players ended up taking the blame. It is the drug investigation that led to these latest accusations because investigators wiretapped some of Moggi's conversations and stumbled on these talks about officiating games.

    Just about every time Juventus wins, the opposition says the victory is a result of preferential treatment. And now the accusers might have concrete proof. The Italian media published excerpts of wiretapped conversations between Moggi and refereeing official Pierluigi Pairetto from last season in which the two discussed referees for Juventus' Serie A and Champions League matches, according to CNN.com.

    The issue is not whether the pair chatted. Rather, it is the nature of their discussions. CNN also reports that Pairetto, who was responsible for assigning refs to some Serie A and Champions league games and told Moggi who the refs for his games would be beforehand. Usually, referee names are withheld until right before matches to prevent match fixing.

    Pairetto's relationship with Juventus might not end with Moggi. Prosecutors also found that he was in contact with Juve CEO Antonio Giraudo, who also helped the ref official jump the waiting list for a Masarati, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency.

    What does this all mean? It might mean nothing. Maybe Juve's relationship with Pairetto had nothing to do with its winning streaks. But you can be sure thousands of Italians won't believe that. After all, this is a country that lived through the betting scandal of the 1980s in which national hero Paolo Rossi betrayed his fans, the sport and himself. These are also the same people who are convinced that their national team was wrongly denied a chance at the 2002 World Cup because of poor refereeing or worse a fixed match.

    The scary part of this situation at least for nave fans like myself is that it takes a cheater to know a cheater. Say it ain't so Juventus. Say it ain't so.

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