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Scandals abound in run-up to World Cup

Will child prostitution in France and match-fixing in Italy have repercussions on the field?

The French press is limited by strict privacy laws in what it can report about the child prostitution investigation or the names of players involved. But the British press faces no such constraints and has reported, with characteristic glee, that the players frequented a club/brothel on the Champs Elysees where 20 women were arrested in a raid last week. While prostitution is legal in France, the investigation centers on sex with underage girls, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

While lawyers for the players insisted that the players are only witnesses in the case, the Mail Online reported that Ribery, who is married with two young children, has admitted sleeping a number of times last year with a teenage prostitute, a French Moroccan woman who is now 18, though he denies knowing she was underage. Along with Ribery, who is playing for Bayern Munich in the Champions League semis this week and poised to sign a lucrative, new contract after this season, the Mail named three other French stars, including Sidney Govou who is playing for Lyon against Bayern Munich.

The Italian scandal was resurrected now because a former Juventus director is on trial in the original matter. And his defense appears to be that all the top teams were indulging in secret discussions to arrange sympathetic referees for their matches. As a result of the scandal, Juventus was stripped of two Italian titles and demoted to Serie B for a season, while four other teams began the following season with point deductions. But Italian media is now printing transcripts of calls between other teams and those responsible for the assignment of officials that suggest the corruption may have been even more widespread than previously acknowledged.

The Italian national team has already demonstrated the ability to ignore the most scandalous backdrop and focus on its World Cup efforts. But the mess that is Italian soccer has now endured for five years and appears to have exacted a toll on Italian players. France may have an even harder time in South Africa if Ribery and others are forced off the team because of misconduct, criminal or otherwise. It’s hard to imagine that the scandal won’t have on-field consequences. Despite the country’s tolerance for wayward sexual behavior by its presidents and star athletes, child prostitution is far too serious and shameful to be ignored, even on behalf of Les Bleus.

FIFA, international soccer’s less-than-august governing body, already had plenty of worries about potential problems — most notably South Africa’s high crime rate — ruining the quadrennial celebration. But with three of soccer’s most celebrated national teams heading to South Africa in the wake or the scandals that run the gamut of sleaze, one wonders if a genuine celebration is any longer appropriate or even possible.