Sumeet Paul on the match-fixing scandal which has shaken the Super Lig to its very core.
Corruption. It’s a word that has been bandied around with such regularity in recent times that it has almost become synonymous with football. Throughout the ages of the game, there has been controversy at all levels across the world. Of late, it has allegedly been so deep-rooted that it has spread from the pinnacle of the hierarchy within FIFA down to the domestic bodies in the UEFA family. While the Calciopoli findings continue to rage on in Italy, the TFF are the latest to be embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, one which threatens to bring Turkish football to its knees.
The Turkish FA were recently forced to postpone the start of the SuperLiga as details of the accusations continue to be leaked and progressively form a darker picture. Among the 31 suspects arrested by police is a man widely regarded as one of the most richest and powerful in the country, Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim. Dubbed the ‘Turkish Luciano Moggi’, and accused of bribery and intimidation to fix up-to almost 19 games last season, he is among several influential figures at various clubs to be arrested in connection with the claims.
The latest scandal comes just a year after accusations first surfaced that corruption was rife in Turkey. In March 2010, 46 people were arrested in connection with a European-wide match-fixing scandal, with several ex-Turkish internationals detained as part of the investigations. On one hand you question whether they have learnt their lesson should they be found guilty, on the other you have to ask whether enough is being done to stamp out corruption in the ‘beautiful game’.
At first glance when considering the evidence, it looks suspect to say the least. Fenerbahce pipped Trabzonspor to the league title last season with a final day 4-3 win at Sivasspor. Having spent the majority of the season languishing behind the leaders, the Istanbul-based giants went on a run of 16 wins in their last 17 games to take their 18th league title on goal difference. A case of incredible resilience and domination, or bribery and corruption at its peak? ‘I am a Fenerbahce supporter too. We should all welcome the outcome of an issue that has been taken to court’, said Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan. The problem is, it’s not just Fener that are under investigation.
Several officials at Besiktas were also arrested on suspicion of fixing last season’s cup final win against Buyuksehir. Despite initially telling reporters he had the utmost faith in his club that they were innocent of all the allegations, president Yildirim Demiroren later returned the cup to the TFF. Guilty conscience, or strategic move to rid the club of being tainted by the scandal?
The consequences of the investigation could be destructive. Like Juventus, Fenerbahce face the real possibility of being stripped of the title and being relegated while there has already been whispers that two relegated clubs, Konvaspor and Bucaspor, are ready to bring legal proceedings against Sivasspor and Eskisehirspor, two clubs implicated in the scandal. While the whole-hearted fan of football will rejoice with these possibilities arguing that justice will be done, this result could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for Turkish football. If Fener were to be relegated, not only would it make the SuperLiga less attractive to TV rights holders, it would significantly damage the entire league financially. A SuperLiga without Fenerbahce could potentially be worse than a SuperLiga with the Sarı Kanaryalar despite the accusations.
While their president continues to be dragged through the mud with the allegations labelled at him, the Fenerbahce fans have predictably reacted badly. The TFF have ordered that their first two home games of the new season, if it ever actually starts, will be played behind closed doors. This ruling comes after hundreds of supporters stormed the pitch at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium during a friendly against Shakhtar, wearing masks and t-shirts depicting their president. Having experienced first-hand the atmosphere that these incredibly passionate fans create, funnily enough against Shakhtar in a Champions League qualifier almost three years ago, you can’t help but feel sorry for them as they can only look on as their club falls further into deep and murky waters.
Following scandals in Italy, Greece and now Turkey to name but a few, is the game set to self-implode? While football is huge business in Turkey, in financial terms as well as popularity, it has left room for those to implement their own influence and risk seeing the whole federation crumble should FIFA and/or UEFA come down hard on any guilty parties. Much like their counterparts in Italy and Greece, it almost feels as though corruption is becoming part and parcel of the game and many are accepting it rather than clamping down on it. If this isn’t a serious wake-up call that the game is in desperate need for the entire system to be cleaned up, then football will be continuing down this path of corruption for many years to come. ‘We do not believe the accusations that have been made against the President and directors are true’ read a statement by Fenerbahce. I sincerely hope for the future of the club and football as a whole that they are right.
Sumeet is a regular contributor to IBWM, and can be found on Twitter @italiafooty.