Since the weekend the Polish football world has been shaken by an unseemly spectacle surrounding the last qualifying spaces allowing entry into the top 8 of the Ekstraklasa – the so-called ‘Championship group’ which allows clubs the opportunity to fight for European places and guarantees them survival from relegation.
The controversy concerns several clubs which had been deducted points due to inappropriate financial arrangements – Lechia Gdańsk and Ruch Chorzów. Lechia Gdańsk didn’t agree with the decision to deduct them a point and they thus launched an appeal. After a long delay a league commission agreed to rescind their point deduction – but amazingly this decision was taken only one day before the final round of matches which would finalise the Ekstraklasa’s Championship and Relegation groups.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realise this would have a mighty effect on qualification to the top 8 and this is exactly what happened – although in a more confusing way than anyone could have predicted. As a result of the matches played on Saturday Lechia and Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała took up the final two places in the Championship group and Ruch – who also had a point deducted early in the season – missed out. The denouement provoked outrage and bewilderment on social media networks – as Podbeskidzie only made the top 8 as a result of a better fair play record than Ruch Chorzów, having the same head to head record and the same goals scored and conceded.
The final table after Saturday’s matches
This chaos was made worse by journalists proposing that, despite there being nothing in the rules stating this, Podbeskidzie and Ruch should play a playoff match to decide who would make the top 8. On top of this one official representing the Ekstraklasa confused matters even further by suggesting that this play-off match could take place if both Podbeskidzie and Ruch agreed to play one. The President of the Polish FA Zbigniew Boniek also added his two cents by harshly criticising the commission that had made the decision to give Lechia back their point, stating that it was a ‘political decision’ which should never have been made.
The impasse was finally ended on Monday when Lechia Gdańsk, clearly pressured by the Polish FA to give up their point and knowing that they would qualify for the top 8 anyway, gave up their appeal. All of this meant that Podbeskidzie dropped out of the Championship group and Ruch Chorzów took their place due to a mini-league between three sides who finished on the same number of points.
The final Ekstraklasa table with Lechia and Ruch in 7th and 8th
The whole sorry situation left a wide range of people with egg on their faces – the Polish Ekstraklasa for taking so long to deal with Lechia Gdańsk’s appeal and then publicly questioning the very same rules that they themselves had established, Lechia Gdańsk for making the appeal in the first place and then admitting that they had done so as a specifically provocative act and also for giving up their point in the midst of pressure placed on them from above, a host of journalists for not taking the time to read up on the rules which define who finishes where, and Zbigniew Boniek for his lack of control in dealing with the whole mess.
The chaos and epic mismanagement allowed rumours, half-truths and suspicion to fill the space vacated by bad governance. And, this being Poland – a country racked by match-fixing scandals in the 1990s and 2000s – the conversation came round to loudly expressed public beliefs that something was essentially dirty and underhand about the whole affair. Allegations were everywhere: Had Lechia Gdańsk given up their point in exchange for something from Ruch either on the pitch or off it? Were Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała not allowed into the top 8 because of their small fan base? Had Boniek worked out a deal behind the scenes which would ensure he got votes in the Polish FA presidential elections in the autumn? Other commentators stated that the sorry incident had set the Ekstraklasa back ten years in terms of its public image.
Certainly what happened was undignified, messy and a public relations nightmare for the Ekstraklasa but for me that’s all it was. Hopefully it will lead the Polish FA and Ekstraklasa to underline rules surrounding the functioning of the league more clearly in future. In addition, it illustrates the fact that public figures with huge social media followings should think twice before expressing their opinions when emotions are running high. The whole matter could have been dealt with in a lot cleaner and less controversial fashion without the constant social media chatter of those who should know better.
As it is we move on to the first Championship and Relegation round of matches this weekend. Exhausted by the wave of allegations but hoping that everything goes a lot more clearly, cleanly and calmly in the run-in that lies ahead.