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Amid Scandal, Turkish Soccer Seeks European Support


Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim (top, 2nd L) is escorted by plainclothes police officers at the courthouse in Istanbul July 8, 2011

Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim (top, 2nd L) is escorted by plainclothes police officers at the courthouse in Istanbul July 8, 2011

Turkish football (soccer) is in the grip of a major police investigation into match-fixing, with more than 60 people arrested in a scandal that has rocked the country. Turkish officials met with Europe's football governing body UEFA in Geneva.

The soccer summit was called after Turkish football became mired in growing allegations of match-fixing. UEFA threatened to ban clubs found to be involved from future European competitions.

Turkish Football Federation Deputy President Lutfi Aribogan led the delegation to UEFA’s Swiss headquarters and emerged confident that Turkey has support from the governing body.

He said UEFA has full confidence in the Turkish Football Federation and they are in agreement with its approach to the situation.

UEFA has become increasingly concerned as senior officials from Turkey's leading clubs have been arrested in the police probe. The police have identified 19 of last season's matches they suspect of being fixed. Last week, Istanbul's Besiktas team returned the Turkish football cup.

Earlier, a player reportedly confessed to police that he played badly in the cup final in exchange for a race horse.

UEFA's biggest concern surrounds league champions Fenerbahce. The club’s chairman is currently in jail over allegations the club fixed numerous games to secure the title.

Veteran football journalist Esat Yilmaer of the Turkish Football Writers Association says authorities may have done enough to persuade UEFA not to expel the club from its premier competition, the Champions League.

"There is a lot question about this situation, and in this moment [the] football federation says we do not have enough material to punish the clubs," said Yilmaer. "And until the court gives a decision, we have to wait. Maybe it's right because nobody knows who is guilty or who is not guilty."

Any court case is expected to last two to three years. But pressure on UEFA to act against Turkish football can only grow, as the police investigation continues to widen.

Another club set to play in the Champion's League, Trabzonspor, is also under investigation, with senior officials arrested.

The deepening scandal is gripping the country, according to columnist Asli Aydintasbas, of the Turkish daily Milliyet.

"It is more important than any political story we are talking about," said Aydintasbas. "It is the only subject people on the street are talking about. This country is insane about football.”

Last week, thousands of supporters of the Fenerbahce club protested outside their stadium. The demonstration turned violent, with some clashing with police when fans blocked one of Istanbul's main highways. Many of the supporters claim the investigation is a conspiracy against their club.

But with many of Turkey's clubs run by wealthy and powerful businessmen, suspicions about match-fixing have dogged Turkish football for years. With the police investigation targeting more clubs it is being widely perceived as even handed, and is enjoying strong public support.

As in a popular cafe frequented by football supporters who come to watch games on television.

FAN 1: "They have to clarify everything, if bad things happened they have to clarify. Because we have to know what happened. And of course the people who did these kind of things have to be punished."

FAN 2: "It will be better for everybody. If they go to the end of the investigation everything will be clear."

That hope appears well placed. More people are being brought before the courts as the scope of the police investigation widens.

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