Punishments to fit the crimes?, a leadership vacuum and the irony of it all

[b]Punishments to fit the crimes?[/b]

My colleague, Christer Ahl, makes the case that the debate over whether one punishment should be tougher than another is difficult and somewhat pointless when there’s no established precedence in place. This is certainly true, but few would argue that the punishments leveled against Russian club, Chekov Medvedi, and the Romania National Team are laughable. With the so-called “threats of suspension” it reminds me of the parent warning the toddler, “if you do that again, you’re really, really going to get it next time.” We all know how effective that threat is compared to actually meting out a punishment. Seriously, does anyone in the EHF hierarchy really think that fining Chekov and Romania and threatening suspension if they get caught again is a real punishment? Give me a break. The amount of the fines are even less than what they were reportedly offering to throw the matches! If the EHF wanted to send a message the proper one would have been 2 year suspensions…. Period.

As far as punishments for the individuals involved, the EHF showed some willingness to mete out punishment. Five year bans were given to the Romanians, Federation VP Palau Petre and former National Team coach, Aihan Omer. According to the press release and news reports it appears that there is little doubt as to their culpability. I would argue, however, that the penalty for match fixing should be nothing less than a lifetime ban from the sport. Yes, a “death penalty” is pretty harsh, but match fixing is so unquestionably wrong and detrimental to the sport that it deserves the ultimate punishment. The only life-line, I’ll throw the EHF is that I don’t think they had any clear penalties established.

With the German officials, Lemme/Ullrich, they haven’t admitted actual match fixing, but just a failure to report. I guess its plausible, but they won’t name the solicitor and you really have to suspend belief to think that they were surprised when the $50,000 was later found in their luggage. If we are to believe this story, we can only speculate what they would have done with the money had it not been discovered by the Customs official at the Moscow airport. Safe on German soil would they still have been reluctant to report it to the EHF? Perhaps maybe they would have simply burned it to avoid any complications?

Still, there seems to be some truth to the claim that the EHF had a poor process for reporting events like they experienced as well as a poor track record in following through with investigations. Certainly, the fact that the Danes reported the incident in Romania, but the EHF only took action after the Kiel-Flensburg story blew up backs this claim. With that in mind, perhaps 5 years is sufficient for Lemme/Ullrich.

[b]A leadership vacuum[/b]

Another point worth mentioning is that there is a leadership credibility problem at the top of the IHF and EHF. Yes, this is an EHF matter, but certainly it would be helpful if we had an IHF President who could use his “bully pulpit” to speak out on the match fixing scandals. As many of the referees in question officiate both IHF and EHF matches the IHF President could play an active role with constructive dialogue to address mutual concerns and issues. Such a possibility with the current President, however, is a laughable prospect in light of his culpability with the Kuwait – Korea Olympic Qualification match.

Also, compromised is the EHF leadership. With their tacit support of the current president in the last IHF election they sent a message that match fixing isn’t a very big deal. For illustrative purposes let’s pretend that the current IHF President was a European. And let’s speculate on what sort of punishments would be meted out if this IHF President was found to have intervened in the selection of an officiating pair for a Champions League match and then the tape of the match was shown to be undeniably biased in favor of one team. Perhaps, a two year suspension for the club in question? What about the penalty for the supposed IHF president who made phone calls to enable match manipulation? A 25,000 Euro fine? A 5 year ban? Or would the EHF just keep quiet, pretend nothing serious has happened and support that President’s re-election?

In fact, I’m a little surprised that none of the aggrieved have pointed out the hypocrisy in these uneven responses. Or perhaps this is why some of the penalties have been lenient?

[b]And the irony of it all[/b]

Finally, let’s not forget that Lemme and Ullrich were the unbiased, experienced officials that the IHF sent to Japan to officiate the infamous Korea – Kuwait Olympic qualification match. If they had officiated the match instead of the Jordanian pair the Olympic qualification scandal would have never occurred. And while the Olympic qualification scandal took place miles away, there’s no denying that it helped create an atmosphere that heightened awareness of the issue in Europe. An atmosphere that eventually led to the European investigations and thus completed an unlikely chain of events that led to Lemme and Ullrich‘s downfall.

So, if the match-fixers had been allowed to officiate a match fairly in Japan they might still be calling matches in Europe. Of course, a cynic might point out that Kuwait should have hired Lemme/Ullrich instead of the Jordanians. We don’t know for certain if they fix matches or not, but we do know they won’t report it.

Video: Lemme/Ulrich chatting with a Korean reporter: (Fast forward to 13:30)
Team Handball News: Video: Korean News on Olympic Qualification: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.422