Thursday, July 26, 2007

Say it ain't so Valery…

From: Moscow Times, Sporting News and UK Guardian
Valery Shantalosov, former Belarus goalkeeper has been charged with having offered bribes to his teammates to lose the final two games of the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament
Will the defaming of sports heroes never come to an end?

At the same moment that Major League Baseball tries to come to grips with whether or not Barry Bonds, who is at the moment on the verge of breaking the all-time home run record, used steroids during his monumental late-carreer power surge, a big sports scandal has appeared in the news out here in the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus. Authorities in Minsk have charged former Belarus goalkeeper Valery Shantalosov, with having offered bribes to his teammates to lose the final two games of the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament. The games in question were against Czech Republic and Moldova in September 2003. At the time, Belarus was already out of contention having lost five of its first six games of the tournament. Belarus lost 3-1 at home to the Czech Republic and 2-1 at Moldova four days later. Shantalosov did not play in either game.

The main thrust of the accusation focuses on taped phone conversations between Shantalosov and an unnamed Russian gambler from before and after the games.

According to Minsk police investigative head Gennady Kazakevich, the gambler offered tens of thousands of dollars to the longtime goalkeeper to persuade his teammates to under-perform during the matches so as to insure that the goal differential would be favorable to the gamblers interest. The Belarusian players, already out of the running for a birth in the next round, are said to have agreed because they had nothing really to play for.

Kazakevich said investigators suspect that Shantalosov was working with a "famous Russian sports journalist," whom Kazakevich did not name.

Shantalosov, currently working as a trainer with Russian second-division team Sibir, has denied the accusations.

"This is a provocation," Shantalosov told Belarus' Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "If there were facts against me then they wouldn't have let me travel or work. ... I am prepared to explain everything to the president of the country and the head of the football federation of Belarus."

"I'm not even aware the police are looking for me," Shantolosov was quoted as saying by Belarussian Web site Football.By. "I'm not hiding, I've been back home many times and everyone knows where I work."

Shantalosov has been charged in Belarus with match-fixing and if convicted, could face up to three years in prison. Belarus has not as of yet submitted a formal extradition request to Russia, as a Belarussian judge must first rule that there is sufficient evidence for such a request. After that, all case materials would then have to be examined by the Russian General Prosecutor's Office.

Shantalosov was the first ever goalkeeper for an independent Belarus, making his debut in 1992 following the break-up of the Soviet Union. During his career he made 24 international appearances for Belarus and played for several top flight clubs in Belarus, Russia, Latvia and Kazakhstan. He was also voted the best goalkeeper in Belarus in both 2001 and 2002. Shantalosov spent most of his career playing in the Russian Premier League and is generally considered the best-ever shot stopper to come out of Belarus. He conceded just 143 goals in his 362-game career. He quit the field in 2005 and became a coach.

A spokesman for UEFA, European football's governing body, said the organization would investigate the match-fixing claims. Last January the Polish government detained 70 referees, owners and club officials for bribery and match fixing, citing games played during this same period of time.

More soon...