ROME, June 29, 2006 (AFP) – Italian football went on trial Thursday at a sports tribunal hearing in Rome that will decide whether four of the country’s top clubs colluded to rig matches over a period of several years.
The scandal, which broke last month, has dominated headlines in football-crazed Italy, and could result in the teams being excluded from European competition and relegated to second-division play.
Half of Italy’s World Cup squad are on the payroll of four Serie A clubs implicated, AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Juventus.
The president of the Federal Appeals Commission (CAF), Cesare Ruperto, opened the proceedings, in which some 26 club and national officials, referees and linesmen accused of sporting fraud have been summoned.
The charges allege that corrupt referees manipulated matches, mostly in favour of Juventus, who have won four of the past five championships.
Of particular interest to Italian Football Federation (FIGC) prosecutor Stefano Palazzi are 19 matches from the 2004/05 championship, although the hearing will also probe player transfers and the sale of television rights.
The tribunal was however adjourned till Monday by CAF after requests from several quarters.
The trial, following an FIGC investigation by anti-corruption judge Francesco Saverio Borelli, was sparked by a criminal investigation launched by prosecutors in the southern city of Naples.
The sports tribunal is due to hand down its judgement sometime between July 7 and July 9, the day of the World Cup final in Germany, with a final ruling on any appeals by July 20.
Juventus’ former director general Luciano Moggi is one of the central characters accused of being involved in the match-fixing.
"Our aim is to avoid relegation," said one of Juventus’ lawyers Cesare Zaccone as he walked into the Olympic stadium where the tribunal is being held.
According to Italian press, Juventus’ lawyers will use the argument that Moggi acted alone without informing other officials and shareholders of the club.
"Scandal trial," was Thursday’s front page headline in Gazzetta dello Sport while the Corriere dello Sport had on its front page: "The trial begins, let’s change football."
Meanwhile in a separate twist linked to the scandal, former Juventus player Gianluca Pessotto, in hospital after a fall from a building, may not survive, according to a doctor on Thursday.
"We cannot say if he will survive even if there was no worsening of his condition today or yesterday," said Dr Pierpaolo Donadio at the Molinette hospital in Turin where the former player is being treated.
Pessotto suffered multiple injuries after falling about 20 metres (60 feet) and his wife explained he tried to commit suicide because he had been stressed and depressed for some time.
She said he had not been happy with the responsibilities he had been given at the club in May, just after his retirement as a player.