In Trabzon, eastern Turkey this week, to give a presentation about the importance of continuing to fight against corruption in sport. I am being brought in by a bunch of fans of the local team who are upset about the situation.
They may be even more upset very soon. For my message is very simple: Turkish football is in a severe crisis. It is deeply corrupt. The only hope for the sport here is to shut down the league for a year and appoint neutral, non-corrupt football administrators (no one who has ever been connected to football should be allowed to run the league), neutral referees (fly them in from other countries, pay them well and then get them out) and transparent financial regulation.
To anyone who does not know the extent of corruption in Turkish football this may seem extreme. To the weary and cynical Turkish fans, it is long overdue. For it is genuinely difficult to overstate how bad corruption is in the Turkish league. Mafia dons, gambling match-fixing, bribed referees, suspended players, jailed team chairmen – the list just goes on and on.
What is truly depressing is that every time someone shows enough courage to start cleaning up the sport, the system steps in to shut them down.
A quick review of the current scandal might be useful:
- In May 2011, Fenerbahçe the most popular team in the country won the national championship beating Trabzonspor to the title on the final day of the season.
- Two months later, Turkish police moved in a series of raids and arrested 93 people.
- After a lengthy trial and a bizarre process involving political head-butting between the President and the Prime Minister of the entire country: the Chairman of Fenerbahçe was convicted of fixing games that helped them in the Championship, along with a number of Fenerbahçe’s senior executives.
So far, so good. You might think, at least something has been done – a la Moggi in Italy with Juventus – and the game can be saved.
Well, no. This is the Turkish football world where normal rules of logic, justice and, presumably, gravity are often reversed.
The Chairman of the Turkish Football Federation – before the trial was over – declared that the rules were ‘too harsh’ in punishing match-fixing. And henceforth, every team caught fixing would only suffer deduction of points, rather than be relegated.
“Our aim is to make disproportionate sanctions more proportionate. The most pleasing point is that attempts to harm the values that make football what it is have not reached a damaging point and have not been reflected on the pitch in any way.” he said.
Translation: Ummmm … well, he is actually talking nonsense. Actually, it is worse than nonsense, it is complete and utter nonsense.
But it gets worst. In a piece of judicial legerdemain that would have most neutral fans scratching their head, the Turkish authorities declared that because the people fixing games were individuals (what else would they be?), they should not punish the Fenerbahçe team in anyway – neither by deducting points or removing the Championship title.
The Prime Minister of Turkey, chimed in and supported the TFF, saying,
“Real persons must be punished and not legal entities because if you punish a legal entity, you also punish millions of fans who set their hearts on them.”
This is soccer talk for ‘a bank that is too big to fail’. In other words, “Yes, a club chairman may try to fix games, but if the club is very popular we will not punish the team.”
In normal language, it means this is the end of Turkish soccer. This will not happen overnight, the sport is far too entrenched for that to happen. However, slowly, gradually more and more fans will turn off the game: sponsors will pull out and the credibility of the sport will leak away.
The fans here in Trabzon want the title stripped from Fenerbahçe and given to their team. I think the situation is far more serious than that – the whole league needs to be shut down and cleaned out properly.
Lets give the final word to a former Turkish football official. One of the many sane, sensible Turks who are disgusted with the entire situation, Yusuf Reha Alp, was a member of the federation’s disciplinary body and last year, he said:
“Turkish football may now be considered as finished. There are no fans in the stadiums and sponsors are running away. If we do not change … football will be a mockery in Turkey. As a Turk, I’m very ashamed to say this, but only UEFA can clear us. Turkish football’s future is very dark.”
A few months later Alp left his job at the disciplinary board.