By Nick Harris
19 March 2010
The Ukrainian referee banned from football for life last night for being “in breach of the principles of loyalty and integrity” of Uefa’s rules was part of a hand-picked elite that the European governing body used to pioneer the new, “fairer”, six-person teams of officials at Europa League matches this season, sportingintelligence can reveal.
Oleh Orekhov – whose name is alternatively spelt Oleg Oriekov – is understood to have been handed his life ban as result of involvement in suspected match-fixing activity in the current season, and because of links to a fixing ring with roots in Croatia that corrupted or tried to corrupt at least 200 matches across Europe at club and continental level.
In a statement released this evening, Uefa said Orekhov’s ban was imposed “based on information from ongoing investigations by German police into match-fixing and corruption.”
When the police force in question, based in Bochum, announced in November they were probing up to 200 games, it was stated that three in Champions League (qualifiers) were being considered as well as 12 Europa League matches, plus domestic games in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia and Austria, but not Ukraine.
Uefa’s disciplinary chief Peter Limacher said it was “the biggest match-fixing scandal ever” in Europe.
Just two months earlier, Orekhov had been among 48 hand-picked elite referees to attend special training at Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, ahead of being assigned to lead new-look six-man teams of officials at Europa League games. One aim of the expanded officiating teams was to make decisions more accurate, and therefore make games fairer.
Orekov subsequently refereed the Europa League match between Ventspils and Heerenveen on 1 October (0-0), and the game between Basel and CSKA Sofia on 5 November (3-1 to the Swiss).
He had earlier taken charge of the second leg of the Europa League qualifier between Austria Vienna and Serbia’s Vojvodina in August, a 4-2 win on the night for the hosts in a 5-3 aggregate victory, and had also refereed a Champions League qualifier between Streymur and APOEL in July.
Orekhov, who has three days to appeal his ban, is a Fifa-listed referee who officiated at two qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, including Spain’s 3-0 home win over Estonia last September.
Uefa last month banned for life a Bosnian referee, Novo Panic, and suspended a Croatian assistant referee, Tomislav Setka. Uefa has stressed in a statement that its decisions are based on breaches of its sporting rules and are not related to ongoing criminal proceedings in Bochum. But the life bans are just the latest sign that the European governing body and its president, Michel Platini, want to purge the game of match-fixing. Platini has said fixing is the greatest current danger to the game’s integrity.