WARSAW, Poland (AP) -A trial of dozens of football officials and players charged with fixing Polish league games opened on Wednesday in Wroclaw.
Meanwhile, the new board of the Polish Football Association held its first session in Warsaw, amid hopes that its new president, player great Zbigniew Boniek, will herald a corruption-free era.
Prosecutors in Wroclaw were reading some 500 pages of indictments against Ryszard F, accused of being the ringleader, and 38 others, who were charged with organizing and participating in a criminal ring that offered money to referees, observers and players to fix games from 2003 to 2006.
The reading was suspended after a few hours, because the main defendant said he did not feel well. It will be continued on Thursday.
It is another in a string of trials resulting from a probe that opened in 2005 and has led to the arrest or charges against some 600 people, including a former national coach, identified only as Janusz W, and a national team player, identified as Lukasz P. Some have been given suspended prison terms and ordered to return the money. But the PFA has failed to ban Lukasz P or the indicted home league footballers from playing, which has drawn outrage from fans and experts.
Poland's goalkeeper of the 1970s, Jan Tomaszewski, told The Associated Press the FA was guilty of tolerating corruption that grew out of communist-era friendly ties among officials. He said they "did not understand or just ignored the need to punish on the sport level" the players and officials who had been sentenced by the court.
"They have this sense of solidarity, of being in one boat, or of knowing each other's sins," Tomaszewski said. "I hope this will change under Boniek."
Tomaszewski, who helped Poland to the finals of the 1974 World Cup and 1976 Olympics, also blamed the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk for accepting the situation and pampering the national team, in contrast to Italy, where the government and officials were taking harsh steps to root out corruption.
The new FA head, Boniek, an international in the 1970s and 80s and a star of Juventus and Roma, has no allegiance to the previous association. He took over last month from Poland's top striker of the 1970s, Grzegorz Lato, who was criticized for preserving the association's bad practices and for decisions that harmed Poland's image. Among them was taking off the national emblem, the white eagle, from the jerseys, and failing to close a retractable roof over Warsaw's National Stadium during rain, which forced a key qualifier with England to be put off by a day due to a waterlogged pitch.
Boniek on Wednesday announced a new secretary general, Jacek Sawicki, and easier accessibility to tickets over the Internet.
A former home league referee, Jacek Kadrow, who quit in 2000 to rid himself of pressure to fix matches, told The AP that team officials, coaches and observers agreed on match results before the game, and instructed referees not to stand in the way of the deals. The practice intensified with the onset of the market economy in 1990, when a team's financial situation depended on its standing.