Former FIFA official Urs Meier says young referees and players in Europe are being targeted by gangs to fix matches.
The 54-year-old ex-referee, now a businessman, spoke after news of a worldwide match-fixing scandal broke in the week.
Meier believes players and referees are focussed on by gangs when they are young and given payments, which leaves them indebted to the criminals later on in their careers.
It’s very dangerous for the long-term health of the game and it’s clearly something that UEFA has to deal with,' he told the Sunday Mirror.
'It’s something that isn’t just happening in the highest leagues, but also in the lowest leagues – which is where the problem often starts.
'There has to be a focus on young players and young referees because the manipulation starts, very often, when they’re beginning their careers. By the time they’ve moved up then they’re deeply involved and when you’re dealing with criminal gangs it’s very difficult to untangle yourself.'
Meier continued: 'We have to educate the young referees and the young players of the dangers they face.
'Sometimes you don’t realise what is going on, the gangs start small with the lower leagues.
'The referees and players are often unaware of the consequences of becoming involved with these people at such a young age.
'It’s not just about the money, these criminals are very manipulative.'
Europol are investing 380 games, including a 2009 Champions League clash between Liverpool and Debrecen.
They say 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix matches. Europol declined to specify the Champions League tie under investigation because of ‘ongoing judicial proceedings’.