Players from top French club Montpellier have admitted to placing bets that their team would lose against a weaker side, but deny they deliberately threw the game.
Some 18 people, including nine players from France’s top handball team Montpellier, were in police custody on Monday in a match-fixing scandal that has rocked the country.
And while the players admitted placing bets that their team would lose against weaker side Cesson-Sevigné they insisted they didn’t throw the game, their lawyer said.
The players, and some of their wives and girlfriends, placed bets in bookmakers totalling nearly 89,000 euros that would have netted them more than 250,000 euros.
Specifically, they parried that Montpellier would be behind at half time, which they were with a score of 15-12 points.
Betting on your own side is against the ethical code of the sport, and the players face 15,000 euro fines and suspension from six matches for what they have already admitted.
But if they are found guilty of the more serious offence of game-fixing, they could be jailed for up to five years with fines of 75,000 euros.
Five of the players being investigated were not at the match because of injuries. But four did play, making the defence that they thought it a safe bet because their best players were out of the game much harder to argue.
Players had ‘crossed a line’
At a press conference on Monday, Montpellier Prosecutor Brice Rabin said there were “very strong suspicions of a breach of sporting rules” and that “the players had crossed the line that exists between players and gamblers”.
“This raises some very serious questions,” he added. “How can one play a match normally when one knows large sums of money have been bet on your behalf for your side to lose?”
The scandal has rocked handball-obsessed France, which idolises its national team which this summer won its second consecutive Olympic gold.
Even though the players have yet to be condemned, the French handball world had nothing but bitter words for the players on Monday.
Daniel Costantini, former coach of France’s national side, did not mince his words, especially towards player Nikola Karabatic, who is France’s top handball hero.
“It seems obvious now that these lads have been given much more credit than they deserve,” he told AFP.
“Everyone talked about Karabatic’s intelligence and how he could have gone to university.
“But if he is convicted, he will prove to have been just a silly little jerk prepared to gamble away his career for 10,000 euros.”
Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer told the Midi Libre newspaper that the reputation of his club was in ruins.
“The club feels betrayed,” he said. “We will have to rebuild it stone by stone.”
The arrests were made on the afternoon of Sunday October 30. In France the period of police detention is normally limited to 24 hours, although judges in Montpellier on Monday extended this by a further day.
Date created : 2012-10-01