German Ref Embroiled in 2005 Match-Fixing Case to Oversee UEFA Semi-Final

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The referee for Thursday’s Europa Conference League semi-final between the EPL’s Aston Villa and Greek champion Olympiacos will be refereed by an official who once served a ban for his role in a gambling match-fixing scandal.

A decision by referee Felix Zwayer causes Jude Bellingham’s jaw to drop. The midfielder was later fined for a remark he made about Zwayer after the game. (Image: Getty)

UEFA’s appointment of Felix Zwayer has raised questions about the referee’s suitability to take charge of such a high-profile game. Zwayer was banned from soccer for six months as a result of the scandal, which erupted in his native Germany, back in 2005.

In January of that year, Zwayer’s fellow referee Robert Hoyzer confessed to fixing and betting on games. Hoyzer, who mainly oversaw matches in Germany’s second tier, admitted he had accepted bribes to manipulate games from a gambling syndicate with links to organized crime.

Phantom Penalties

When Hamburg traveled to non-league Paderborn in August 2004 in the first round of the German Cup, few expected anything but a victory for the Bundesliga team. But when Hoyzer awarded the underdog two phantom penalties and sent off Hamburg’s Belgian forward Emile Mpenza, the game would end up a 4-2 win for the home team.

Several referees who witnessed Hoyzer’s performance reported their suspicions to the German Football Association (DFB). Then, when an online gambling company pointed to irregular betting patterns in the game, a criminal investigation was launched.

Hoyzer quickly began cooperating with authorities. His evidence led to the arrest and conviction of the gambling syndicate members – three Croatian brothers, Ante Sapina, Milan Sapina, and Filip Sapina – who had won €500K from betting on the Paderborn game alone. Several referees and players also came under the spotlight.

Despite being among the group of referees that reported its suspicions about Hoyzer, Zwayer was also implicated. According to the subsequent investigation by the DFB, Zwayer accepted €300 from Hoyzer before a game between SV Wuppertal and Werder Bremen in May 2004. Zwayer was a linesman in the game, which Hoyzer was refereeing.

The payoff was for Zwayer to “avoid critical situations for Wuppertaler SV as an assistant referee,” according to the DFB.

Swept Under Carpet

However, the sporting body could find no evidence that Zwayer had directly manipulated the game and acknowledged his contribution to the investigation of the case. He received a six-month ban from soccer.

Hoyzer was banned for life from having anything to do with the sport and was handed a prison sentence of two years and five months.

That Zwayer accepted Hoyzer’s money was concealed from public knowledge until German newspaper Der Zeit published an exposé in 2014.

The allegation flared up again in 2021 when English midfielder Jude Bellingham, then playing for Borussia Dortmund, criticized Zwayer’s performance after a game between his team and Bayern Munich.

“If you give a referee, who has, you know, match-fixed before, the biggest game in Germany, what do you expect?” Bellingham asked.

The player was fined €40K by the DFB for the remark.

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