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- Aug 1, 2010
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Paul Put claims practice has always existed in football after Europol announces up to 380 matches are under suspicion
For Paul Put, the Belgian coach of Burkina Faso, the statement from Europol that it had found evidence that as many as 380 matches in Europe had been fixed came as no great surprise. He is one of the very few coaches to have been banned for fixing games, serving a three-year ban in Belgium that expired in 2011 after being found guilty of fixing two matches while manager of Lierse.
He remains adamant he was just a scapegoat and that the practice is widespread. "Match-fixing has always existed in football," Put says. "If you look at cycling, at Lance Armstrong, it's always him who is pointed at but everybody was taking drugs. It's not that I've been doing match-fixing, not at all, but it has been declared in the media like this. I also played football and I saw a lot of things. I don't think you can change it. It's unfortunate but I think in every sport you have to face those things. That is reality but what can you do about that?"
The Armstrong defence is unlikely to win Put much sympathy and it is not entirely clear whether he considers himself innocent of the charges or whether he simply regards it as unfair that he was punished when so many others who are allegedly guilty have not been.
"I accepted the ban because Fifa said I could work, so I didn't make any trouble in Belgium," he says.
Does he, then, view himself as a scapegoat? "Yes," the 56-year-old says. "It's the same like Lance Armstrong. It's the same. Everybody is pointing at Lance but without this he is the biggest champion. I don't think this is right. You have to see what's going on in football. There are a lot of big international players who are involved in match-fixing. I think it was worse in the past and these teams have survived."
What is known is that Lierse twice unexpectedly fielded reserve teams in Belgian top-flight league matches in 2005, seemingly as part of a match-fixing ring allegedly organised by the Chinese businessman Ye Zheyun. An international arrest warrant was issued against Ye in 2006 but he returned to China and denies all charges.
Lierse were the only club sanctioned and Put the only individual. Forty people, including Put, have been charged and face a criminal trial but that is unlikely to come to court for at least another two years.
"The suspension was a decision of the federation," Put says. "You always have to make an example for the whole world. We were all surprised because they took only one.
"You know there are more than 40 people. The whole of Belgian football was sick at that time. I was threatened by the mafia. My child was not safe. They threatened me with weapons and things like that. It's not nice to talk about these things but this is the reality."
So is he saying he was forced to fix games? "I was forced but 'fixing games' are big words," he says. "The team at that moment had nothing. It was in a very bad condition. There was no hope, no money, nothing.
"They made up a crazy story about match-fixing but other teams did the same. You have to see a lot of things and how it came about. It was not by our will. I am not a manager – just a coach.
"This is not a decision of a coach and a player. It is a whole team. If you want to fix a game you don't need 12 players. If you want to fix a game you can do it with one. That's what I don't understand – people didn't speak of the reality."
As the scandal broke, Put left Belgium and became the coach of Gambia, where he had significant success, taking them to a record high of 65 in the Fifa rankings. His achievements with Burkina Faso are even greater.
Apart from 1998 when they hosted the tournament, the Stallions had never progressed beyond the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations but on Wednesday they face Ghana in the semi-finals, having gone 367 minutes in the tournament without conceding a goal.
Put regards their progress as some kind of redemption. "I have been working very hard," he says. "It was a very hard time for me and my family and my friends.
"If they point at you and you are the only one, it is hard. I've been fighting, fighting, working, working, day and night, and at least I now I have satisfaction."
He knows the route back to Belgium is probably closed forever, but Put dreams of better things. "My challenge," he says, "is to go to a big country with a big team and prove myself." What he has done with Burkina Faso will not clear his name but it may help people forget his past.
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