The official story from the police and prosecutors is a simple one. Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor (three of the top four teams in the country) along with a group of other smaller teams all fixed dozens of football matches. Their club officials were paying off each others’ coaches, players and the referees. It was a network of deeply entrenched corruption. At the very minimum, the corruption is so bad in Turkish football that the big clubs pay ‘incentives’ to the smaller teams to make sure that they play their hardest against the big clubs’ rivals. In other words, the corruption is so widespread that the big clubs have to bribe them to play well to make sure that they do not get bribed to play poorly.
After Fenerbahce’s president and other top officials were charged, a majority of Turkish politicians deliberately reversed a law that they had just passed calling for stiff jail sentences for match-fixing. The president of Turkey refused to pass their bill. They overturned his veto. Then the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), some of whom were linked to Fenerbahce, resigned. Then a proposal was mooted by the new TFF that if the club officials were guilty, they should stay in jail, but the clubs should not be punished for the actions of their executives and should not be relegated to lower divisions.
All this, by the way, is not the other recent scandal where Sedat Peker, the mafia godfather, was found to be choosing and appointing referees for major matches in the league. Nor is it the Alaattin Cakici scandal where the former Grey Wolves thug was helped to flee the country by Besiktas football officials. Nor is it the Akcaabat Sebatspor match-fixing attempt that ended with a machine-gun attack in the parking lot and the club owner bleeding on the ground. Nor is it the dozens of Turkish matches that were alleged to have been fixed by the German Organized Crime Task Force in Bochum.
The rebuttal to this official story (put forward by people like my Twitter friend and colleague Ata ‘Iron Turk’ Dizdar and lots of Fenerbahce supporters) is that the whole thing is a giant judicial set-up. There may have been fixed matches and corruption but their particular team did not take part in them. The control of Fenerbahce football club is one of deep social and political power in Turkish society. What we are witnessing is an attempt to overturn key elements in Turkey by their rivals under the guise of an official police investigation.
Either way no international sports tournament should be played in Turkey. If the police and prosecutors are correct, there is a deep network of corruption that risks infecting anything it touches. If the Fenerbahce supporters are correct, there is a covert police state that is capable of an industrial scale manufacturing of evidence. Until Turkey sorts itself out and brings its sports governance into the modern era, it simply is not capable as a society of hosting a major sporting tournament.
I do not say this lightly. I know there are many Turkish sports fans who will be upset, but they should turn their anger on their own officials who have betrayed them. This is a moment in Turkey’s history like the car crash in Susurluk where Turks have an opportunity to see how their country is actually organized. They need to start to make sure it runs properly and lives up to Turkey’s long and storied history.