Calling off a game in Estonia it´s a rather rare event. It doesn´t even happen in February when the top league starts and the average outside temperature is -10´C and it´s not unusual that a snow storm might hit the audience. However there are still people with passion (and guts) to go watching the early games of this Nordic calendar bound season.
Given this, having noted the mark ´Postponed´ close to last week Tallinn´s Derby fixture ´Levadia-Kalev´, it might have risen more than an eyebrow as during this period temperatures are certainly more favourable and Estonia has overall been kissed with a very warm Summer with peaks of 27´C.
The same weather scenario was Saturday afternoon at the Kadriorg Park Stadium: warm temperature, bright sky and a fair attendance considering local averages. Clubs were already on the pitch for the warm-up´s and the audience was ready to enjoy a quiet afternoon of Saturday football action between the table leader Levadia (also busy in Uefa Europa League qualifiers against a Welsh side – Bala Town FC) and one of the oldest clubs of the capital Tallinn, Kalev (at the moment engaged in the fight to avoid relegation).
Suddenly a thunder stroke metaphorically into the clear sky.
´The game is postponed due to suspicion of score manipulation´
This was the warning sent on the scoreboard, pen on paper.
What exactly happened?
According to a reconstruction made by a popular local website dealing with football things (Soccernet.ee) there has been anomalous movements of bets on the sign ´1 with Asian Handicap´ for Levadia´s win (the Asian handicap was a 2-0 in favour of Kalev playing away). The anomaly was recorded at an Asian betting agent (SBOBET ´The world leading Asian Handicap Specialist´ according to their website www.sbobet.com ).
The movement was deemed anomalous as the risk coefficient of investing money on this result was quite high due to a statistics fact involving Levadia: they have won just one game with a 3-0 score (away to bitter rivals Flora few months ago) in their 12 wins; 6 of which were 1-0 and the others all by a tight final result.
Considering the situation, the Estonian FA (EJL) has decided to call the game off and postpone it to a date that is yet to be decided. In the aftermath of the decision, EJL president, Mr. Aivar Pohlak, very sorry with the audience to have called off the game, declared that it is necessary to act with extreme force against any kind of manipulation attempt and has reminded that knowing facts about a manipulation about to take place and failing to communicate it, equals to take part into the cheat.
This is a warning especially addressed to anyone from the clubs involved, each of them now leaning inwards to understand who could have taken part into the manipulation attempt.
In the heat of the moment, Levadia didn´t hesitate to post immediately an official note on their website , whose incipit is a clear statement itself: ´FC Levadia confirms that no one of their players, coaches and officials is connected in any way with the attempt of manipulating the score of the game´ in the rest of the lengthy statement is reminded that since 1999 (when Levadia reached the top-flight having also remarkable results in Europe as when they played Newcastle United in UEFA Cup third round in 2006) Levadia has never been linked with any manipulation scandals (as unfortunately there have been few in Estonian football recently).
A similar note has not yet been posted by the visiting club, JK Tallinna Kalev, whose reaction at the moment is the one from the team´s goalie, Danil Savitski: ´I don´t know more than you know about this story. At the end of warm-up our Sporting Director came to tell us that the Estonian FA had called off the game. I am really sorry, it was a perfect day to play football. Sad that things like this occur in Estonia´.
On a later interview, Mr Aivar Pohlak claimed that, contrary to what happened in the past ( he quotes a 2011 game involving another club ) this time they had the 100% certainty that a manipulation attempt was going on for the derby Levadia-Kalev. The certainty came from Betradar (whose services the Baltic football federation is buying from) and from quick investigations that led to understand that the cheat was being in progress.
According to EJL president´s words, the attempt included also what described about bet on Levadia win wth Asian handicap: make sure that Levadia would win at least 3-0 in order to nullify the handicap.
As far as concern the amount of money bet, Mr. Pohlak has not gone into any figure simply talking about huge amounts of money invested. Coming to the clubs involvement into this scandal, Mr Pohlak claims that as far as they know, there are no club officials involved into the attempt and, according to the question made whether players or officials were, he basically implied that players are indeed involved. He didn´t specifically add from which club, however one of his answers is directly implying at Kalev as he clearly said that Levadia is freed from any suspect.
Inevitably the attention now turns to JK Tallinna Kalev: founded in 1911 and re-established in 2002, Kalev holds the record for being the only Estonian club to have taken part into the Soviet top league in 1960 (a league where the likes of Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Kyev were battling) for just two seasons in a row before being relegated. Nowadays the club struggles with financial problems, constantly looking for sponsors, and last year they almost got relegated to the second tier. It is at the moment led by a German coach and counts upon several Turkish-Germans foreign players.
In a later declaration released to the Estonian press, the young and energetic president of Kalev, Mr Raimo Nõu, stated officially that his club is first liner in fighting manipulations and cheats and if, as assumed, one or more of their players are involved in this attempt, not only he is happy the game was immediately called off, but he will not hesitate in terminating the players´ contracts immediately.
The very serious measure the issue has been firmly tackled with is justified by the great effort that the Estonian FA president has put into making Estonian football movement credible through the years in the eyes of the international football authorities (last March 8 Estonian licensed players have been banned from any local competition and the ban has been happily extended by FIFA internationally: http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/news/newsid=2078834/index.html ) . Mr. Aivar Pohlak is very keen in publicly claim that UEFA president, Michel Platini, is a good friend of his; this great effort on the international level has brought Estonia into organizing and participating into their first great final tournament ever (UEFA Euro Under-19, won by Spain and featuring among others also England and former Manchester United midfielder, Paul Pogba who reached the semifinals with France)