Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Italy’s betting scandal explained: Investigation details, players involved, Sandro Tonali’s future

A new betting scandal is now deeply affecting Italian soccer and some Italian players, leaving their futures up in the air. In the past week, many names were mentioned in the betting scandal and at least three well-known players are involved as of now. One of them, Juventus midfielder Nicolò Fagioli, was suspended for seven months and will miss the rest of the 2023-24 season. Let’s go step by step with everything you need to know about the new scandal:

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What is the investigation about? 

This originally stems from the Turin prosecutor’s investigation into gambling through illegal online platforms. Investigators have scanned access, data and transactions and said that Fagioli was placing bets on soccer games. The investigation began the first week of October when the name of Fagioli emerged as one of those alleged to have committed betting breaches. Fagioli started to cooperate with the prosecutor of Turin and with the Italian FA Prosecutor last June. 

Compared to the past betting scandals that affected Italian soccer, such as the one during the 1980’s when 1982 Balon d’Or winner Paolo Rossi was also suspended for two years, or the latest one back in 2011, this is a much different case. In fact, as things stand, players are not working together to fix the results of the games but are betting on different things. As the betting world evolved in recent years, players can now bet on yellow cards, goals scored and much more that do not require the complicity of other individuals.

In this case, there are two main issues. First of all, a soccer player can’t bet on soccer games in general, even if they are not involved. Article 24 of the Italian Code of Sports Justice states that “professional footballers are prohibited from gambling on official events organized by FIGC, UEFA and FIFA and ‘can’t place or receive bets, directly or indirectly.” Moreover, in this particular investigation, they were using illegal betting platforms to place their bets. 

It’s also important to mention that as things stand, clubs, agents and coaches are not part of the investigation and are not involved so far. 

What are the illegal betting platforms? 

When we refer to illegal betting platforms, we are talking about platforms that are not controlled and regulated by the Italian government. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that there are around 10,000 websites and it’s an operation that Italian authorities estimate to be valued at around €18 billion. The individuals that use these websites are doing so for many reasons. First of all, they can’t be tracked by the authorities and the government but also they are free to bet as much as they want, unlike some legal platforms where there is a limit of money you can bet on. It’s a grey area, considering also the fact that is widely believed that these platforms are owned and controlled by criminal organizations, and this is what the whole investigation wanted to prove in first place.  

How does the Italian justice work? 

There are two levels of Italian justice when it comes to soccer players. There is the ordinary justice, that in this case is led by the prosecutor of Turin, and there is the Italian sport justice led by the Italian FA prosecutor. For this matter, players don’t risk a lot when it comes to ordinary justice apart from a fine that should not be more than few hundreds euros for using illegal betting platforms. On the other hand, if those players are found guilty by the FA prosecutor for placing bets on soccer games, the suspensions are very harsh. The minimum suspension is three years, but as the Fagioli case showed us, there are different possible outcomes that we will explain later. 

Who are the players involved so far?

  1. Nicolò Fagioli, Juventus – suspended for seven months
  2. Nicolò Zaniolo, Aston Villa – under investigation 
  3. Sandro Tonali, Newcastle – under investigation 

If players playing in the Premier League like Tonali and Zaniolo are suspended by the Italian FA, the suspension is valid also outside of the country. 

Who is Fabrizio Corona? 

If you read about the betting scandal, you probably read the name of Fabrizio Corona, a very popular personality in Italy. He became a controversial figure in the early 2000s after he was involved in another scandal called “Vallettopoli.” Corona, who was considered the “king of Italian paparazzi” and was convicted of blackmailing soccer players and TV personalities with compromising photographs. The Guardian said “Corona’s scoops helped fuel the celebrity TV culture driven by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s channels and publications over the last decade, and his downfall matches the fate of key players from that era starting with his friend Lele Mora, formerly Italy’s top talent agent, who was jailed on fraudulent bankruptcy. Corona had a starring role himself in Videocracy, the critical 2009 documentary about Italy’s fascination with celebrity TV culture and the belief held by many Italians that getting on TV is the key to success.”

The former king of paparazzi was part of the Italian popular culture for the last two decades with many controversial opinions and scandals, and in September 2023, his sentence of more than ten years ended. Few days after, he launched his new website where he started to publish news about players involved in the betting investigation, such as Fagioli, Zaniolo, Tonali and more. However, only the three mentioned above are investigated at the moment, but Sky Italy also confirmed that it’s believed there are more to come in the coming weeks. 

The Fagioli case 

Juventus midfielder Fagioli will be suspended for seven months after the Italian midfielder admitted he personally placed bets on illegal platforms on soccer games. The 22-year-old reached an agreement with the Italian FA prosecutor for a 12-month suspension that was reduced to him serving seven and will also pay a fine of 12,500 euros. 

Fagioli will have to participate in a therapeutic plan lasting at least six months and in a cycle of at least ten public meetings to be held within five months at amateur sports associations, federal territorial centers, recovery centers from gambling addiction and in any case according to the indications and program proposed by the Italian FA. 

Fagioli will miss the rest of the 2023-24 season but he’s expected to be back at the beginning of the 2024-25 campaign. The player faced a longer suspension (at least three years) but decided to collaborate with the Italian justice after he was investigated and saw his ban reduced. 

La Gazzetta dello Sport revealed some details about his investigation. As per the report, Fagioli told the Italian FA prosecutor that he placed bets on soccer games but not on the teams he was playing for (Cremonese and Juventus). Fagioli denies that Juventus knew about his bets and talks about some loans to teammates, unrelated to the investigation. 

Fagioli explains, as per the same report, that when he was caught crying on the bench last season during the Sassuolo-Juventus game, it was because he was thinking about his debt.

“The worst period I went through was in March-April 2023. I made a technical mistake and was replaced. The tears on the bench were because I was thinking about my betting debts,” he said, per the report.

He also reportedly asked for money from Juventus defender Federico Gatti. 

“I asked for 40,000 euros, but telling him that I needed it to buy a watch and that my accounts were blocked by my mother.,” he reportedly said. 

Since then, Fagioli broke his silence and wrote on his social media accounts.

“I thought I’d start by apologizing not only to Juventus fans but also to all football fans worldwide for my naive error. On the other hand, I am obliged to start with [what] the rubbish newspapers write about me to put me in a bad light with thousands of falsehoods or, maybe, to get more views. I will speak soon,” he wrote.

Fagioli deactivated his social media accounts a few hours later posting this statement.

The Tonali case

After the Fagioli case emerged, the Italian police entered the gates of Italy’s training ground to question two players of the team, Zaniolo and Tonali, who are the two others players that are part of the investigation. Both players left camp shortly after with their futures up in the air. Tonali, who moved from AC Milan to Newcastle in the summer 2023 for €70 million plus €5 million in add-ons, was questioned by the prosecutor and is expected to cooperate as Fagioli did with the Italian FA. 

However, as La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote, it’s believed that Tonali placed bets on his team as well, AC Milan, when he was playing for the Rossoneri. This put him in a different place compared to Fagioli, who was not placing bets on his clubs. It’s likely that Tonali will face at least a 12-month suspension, but it’s too early to know that now. 

The agent of Tonali, Giuseppe Riso, spoke about his player, saying “He is a little shocked by the situation but has already started fighting. This is the most important game against an addiction. I hope Sandro’s experience will save the life of other young players around. He understood he must face this problem with determination and the club is supporting him right now.”

Newcastle also issued a statement on the case.

“Newcastle United can confirm that Sandro Tonali is subject to investigation by the Italian Prosecutor’s Office and Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in relation to illegal betting activity. Sandro is fully engaging with the investigation and will continue to cooperate with all relevant authorities. He and his family will continue to receive the club’s full support. Due to this ongoing process, Sandro and Newcastle United are unable to offer further comment at this time,” the statement read.

The Zaniolo case 

Unlike the two other cases, the one of Zaniolo is much different because the player is currently denying he placed bets on soccer bets but only used the illegal platforms to play poker and other games not related to soccer. The investigation is still ongoing and the data coming from his phone will probably give us more answers,as he’s currently the only player investigated who is denying the accusation. Zaniolo reportedly held a meeting with his lawyers and is preparing to give his deposition to the prosecutors in the betting investigation. If he denies betting on soccer and evidence demonstrate the opposite, he would face a much harsher punishment than Tonali and Fagioli, who collaborated with the investigators since the beginning of the investigation. 

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