Turkish football rivalry reignites over match-fixing
Fenerbahçe wins the national championsship 2011 over Trabzonspor. Photo by Flickr/Muzo178
17.12.2012By Stine Alvad
“It was like a very big earthquake with a very big impact”, said Turkish sports journalist Banu Yelkovan to BBC World football about the day in July 2011 when the story about widespread match-fixing stemming from Turkish football top club Fenerbahçe FC broke. “Our world changed, nothing was going to be like before.”
Fenerbahçe had had 17 wins and one loss in 18 matches when it broke that there had been an extensive system of match-fixing involved in the winning streak.
A large number of players, referees and officials were questioned in court and 61 were arrested.
Among the arrested was Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yildirim who was later sentenced to three years and nine months in jail for match-fixing and another two years and six months for forming an illegal cartel around the rigged matches.
Fenerbahçe was allowed to stay in the nationals while investigations were ongoing and beat Trabzonspor FC in the national final. But after the first report on the case by the Turkish high court was released, and UEFA chief inspector of the Disciplinary Committee Pierre Cornu had been in Turkey to oversee the investigation, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) withdrew Fenerbahçe from the 2011/2012 Champions League season and UEFA invited runner-up Trabzonspor to join instead.
This series of events led to the resignation of Yildirim and three other high ranking members of the TTF.
Prime ministerial help
Since then, the Turkish parliament, backed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is allegedly a Fenerbahçe fan, passed a new match-fixing law. The new law reduces sentences for sports crimes such as involvement in match rigging.
And although a suggestion to allow clubs involved in match-fixing to avoid relegation was first rejected by the General Convention of the TFF in January, the federation changed path and in April this year amended an article in their rules allowing clubs to stay in competitions in spite of match-fixing attempts - as long as the attempts are not reflected on the field..
In May, the TFF, backed by the Turkish government, cleared all clubs involved in the match-fixing scandal.
The Turkish case is currently being investigated by inspectors in the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body. The international football body FIFA has also requested insight to the Turkish files.
During the draw for this season’s Champions League in July, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino said that the status of Fenerbahçe could still change and that UEFA disciplinary inspectors were studying files including the TFF decisions, which cleared the re-entry of the club.
“It’s a complicated case and our disciplinary bodies are going through the procedure,” he said according to AP.
According to journalist James M. Dorsey, an expert in football in the Middle East, UEFA could impose sanctions on Fenerbahçe, but it would not be without consequences:
“UEFA could opt to extend Fener’s ban, as well as expand it to other prominent clubs implicated in the scandal such as Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor. A UEFA intervention would reflect poorly on Mr. Erdoğan, taint Turkey’s already damaged image and further complicate its bid to host the 2020 European football championship,” writes Dorsey in an article about the Turkish case.
In the UEFA press release on the draw, Infantino underlined UEFA’s zero tolerance against match-fixing:
“UEFA will continue with its zero tolerance policy towards any involvement in illegal or irregular activities connected to our matches, and anyone caught risks a life ban from the game.”
Activists call on UEFA
These repeated assurances of zero tolerance against what UEFA president Platini has called the ‘biggest threat against football’, are what different groups of activists and supporters are now holding against the European football body.
UEFA has on several occasions acknowledged and sanctioned against the match-fixing going on in the Turkish league but still they have aligned with Turkish regulations and allowed Fenerbahçe to compete in the current Champions League season citing an on-going review by the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body.
“For the time being, therefore, Fenerbahçe may participate in the UEFA competition for which they are eligible, pending a final decision of the UEFA disciplinary body on the matter,” UEFA writes in a statement.
UEFA further refers to their general stances and measures against match-fixing as stated in the UEFA Strategy on matchfixing and corruption.
Various groups are now forming and are protesting the state of football in Turkey and what they see as the lack of action from both national and international federations. The groups primarily consist of Trabzonspor fans, who feel the club missed out on the national title when Fenerbahçe was allowed to play the 2011 final. The groups call on UEFA to act according to their own zero tolerance policy and exclude clubs that have been convicted of match-fixing.
“Despite all solid evidence and court’s decision that sentenced Fenerbahçe’s president, vice presidents and board members to imprisonment for fixing 11 matches in total, UEFA’s unacceptable approach to this case continues,” says an email, sent to UEFA on November 18 from one of the advocating groups.
“Michel Platini’s and Gianni Infantino’s comments regarding this case and examples they gave are not too far to remember. As they underlined several times, even suspicion is enough to give a verdict on this sort of cases, but you kept ignoring the fact that this crime was penalised by court, but yet to be punished by yourselves,” continues the letter, which is posted on the group’s website stopmatchfixing.com.
UEFA has no comments on the critique raised by the fan groups.
Declan Hill, PhD and author of match-fixing book “The Fix”, offers his support to the fan groups and the effort they are putting into cleaning Turkish football. And he - stressing no particular preference for Trabzonspor - emphasizes a march held last month by Trabzonspor fans protesting in front of UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Hill also encourages fans of the game from other countries in Europe to put in the same effort in an act to clean up the game:
“It may be time for football fans across Europe to start imitating their Turkish colleagues and protest about the levels of corruption that are in our beloved sport,” Hill writes in his blog.