A week of overflowing e-mails. Along with a number of other journalists and prominent football officials, I have been put on a list for dissatisfied Turkish football fans to write to complain of corruption in their league. So each day this week my inbox had about six-hundred e-mails from various people all writing the same form letters to denounce the situation there.
To review: Since last July, Turkish police have arrested almost a hundred players, coaches, referees and club officials on suspicion of fixing dozens of games in their league. The most prominent of the people arrested was the head of Fenerbahçe club. Fenerbahçe is one of Turkey’s most popular teams roughly equivalent to Manchester United or the New York Yankees. Their senior executives are alleged by police to have engaged in widespread corrupt practices.
Two things have occurred in Turkey, both of which I find deeply depressing. One is that in advance of the match-fixing trials, members of Turkey’s establishment have bent over backwards to ensure that the punishments (if there are guilty verdicts) are as light as possible. Last week, the Turkish Football Federation announced that clubs caught fixing would only have points deducted from them and not mandatory relegation to lower divisions. Part of the claim is that the clubs should not be punished for the actions of the senior executives. This is such spurious logic that it is difficult not to laugh.
However, what does make me fall about laughing are the actions of a majority of the Turkish parliamentary deputies. Last winter, this gang of clowns voted a serious sounding anti-match-fixing law that had severe penalties for fraud. A few months later when presumably many of the teams and executives that they support were in jeopardy of being punished under this new bill, they quickly reversed themselves and overturned their new law. You can just imagine the conversation that they must have had, ‘Oh you mean someone may actually be punished by a law that we passed? Someone may go to jail in Turkey for corruption? We never meant for that to happen! We just wanted it on the books to impress the European Union. We never intended for our friends to risk going to prison.’
Please, it is a resounding slap in the face to the Turkish police and judicial prosecution. Either you trust your institutions to do their job or you do not. You change laws and procedures if there are human rights abuses or institutional malfeasance not because your favorite football team might be in jeopardy. There has to be one law for all which if people are guilty they suffer for it.
The second depressing thing is that so many fans would write so many letters in such well-organized campaigns that are so erroneous. Most of these fans do not write because they are concerned for the well-being of sports or the Turkish judicial system (there are a few Turkish authors and journalists who love such an outpouring of support for their rights). Rather most of the people write because they want to either punish or support one particular team. Here is the important lesson for all Turks to learn – if Fenerbahçe (or any other team) fixed matches in Turkey (or any other country) they should be punished. If they did not, they should be acquitted.
Here is the real danger. I remember when my colleagues and I were investigating corruption in figure skating in 2000. Our documentary was about the alleged alliances between French and Russian officials to promote their own skaters, something that came to prominence at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. During the course of the research, I interviewed a very bright journalist at the magazine Patinage. He said in some ways corruption had become an accepted part of figure skating. That some judges may be corrupt was accepted by the fans as a form of the soap opera of the sport. They could enjoy booing the judges if the marks for their favorite skaters was not correct. They could enjoy dreaming up conspiracy theories (some of which proved to be true) about the sport. This is the menace in Turkey, that football becomes a fantastic, social entertainment but it ceases to be a sport.