By Anna Wood
While the football world is no stranger to heckling, name-calling and accusations of cheating, it’s not every day that accusations of fraud come from a federal prosecutor and target the highest ranks of the country’s largest sports clubs.
But much to the chagrin of fans and investors alike, this is the current situation in Turkey. Investigations into alleged large-scale match-fixing have led to the detention and questioning of dozens of individuals.
Among the most notable detention has been that of Aziz Yildirim, the chairman of one of Turkey’s largest sports clubs, Fenerbahce. If found guilty, it risks losing its coveted position in the Champions League.
Though the accusations have caused a flurry of commentary and even protests by avid Fenerbahce fans, what seems absent amidst the chaos is any real sense of surprise.
“Football in Turkey was in need of this type of investigation,” Hurriyet sports editor Cetin Cem Yilmaz told SETimes. “Every year quite a few accusations are made, and most fans would have admitted the existence of match-fixing and financial inducement.”
Burak Tekin, a sports blogger who writes for Eksi Besiktas, agrees that these investigations have been a long time coming.
“It has reached such a point that whichever team won the championship, the other teams’ supporters would be saying ‘Oh, they bought the game,’ and such,” Tekin told SETimes. “It’s actually good news that finally, after all these years, there is a serious investigation going on.”
However, commentators and fans alike express concern about the way the investigations are being carried out. Comparisons are being made to the investigation of the alleged Ergenekon and Balyoz coup plots, particularly as the judicial methods strike many as similarly haphazard and arbitrary.
Yilmaz notes that it was the police force, not the judiciary that came forward to announce the accusations. Even as a newspaper editor, he believes that too much information was leaked to the media.
“There are some people who see the flow of information from the police and the media as deliberate ‘disinformation’,” Yilmaz explained, adding, “This is the reason that, though the contents of the cases are actually different, comparisons are being drawn with cases like Ergenokon and Balyoz.”
Another concern is the speed with which the investigations are being conducted. With the next season starting in less than a month, some say there is a risk of rushing the work at the expense of accuracy.
The chairman of one of Fenerbahce’s biggest rivals, Galatasaray, drew ire this week for asking that the probe be expedited, as a longer process may do more harm to the reputation of Turkish football teams.
“As long as such intense accusations are occurring, deciding to postpone the league for at least a month would have been the right thing to do, at least until the dust settles,” Yilmaz argues.
Amid such concerns, however, there is still hope that the outcome will be a positive one for Turkish football and its fans.
“At the very least, this case [hopefully] will send a message to the people in football business,” said Tekin, adding that, ideally, in the wake of a successful investigation “the collective paranoia of football supporters will wane.”