[email protected]

January 29, 2012, Sunday

The suicide act of Turkish football

Mehmet Ali Aydınlar, the deeply annoyed chairman of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), could announce his resignation at any moment.

He has taken a sudden “vacation leave” after a very tense meeting with the football clubs and has indicated more than once that he has had enough. This follows a historic deadlock on how to deal ethically and legally with the impacts of the match-fixing charges, which implicate eight super league clubs.

Follow the scandal, which is now turning into a deadly farce, and you will much more closely understand the true spirit of impunity and arrogance in Turkey. The events have already turned the football world into such a microcosm.

It all began with a huge police inquiry last summer, when around 60 people, including the chairman of Fenerbahçe, Aziz Yıldırım, were arrested. This hit like a magnitude 9 earthquake. The indictment that followed contained 93 people (players from eight clubs and notorious mafia figures). It alleged an organizational effort of match fixing, with a massive amount of money, between 13 and 19 matches. Now, Fenerbahçe's championship risks being revoked, while the fate of all the clubs is still wide open.

The developing story is filled with big mistakes, resistance, primitive reflexes and denial. (In a sense, by a not too far-fetched comparison, it resembles how Greece in general has reacted to its economic crisis). As the bombshell landed on Turkish football, the TFF chose to drag its feet and then tried to sweep it under the rug. Yıldırım, a powerful figure with deep contacts with the “establishment,” used all of his channels to get out of jail, but failed to his frustration. As police leaked tapped conversations of the accused figures, many “juicy” details (open secrets, to those who follow the football) came to the surface.

The rest was chaos.

On the political side, the government felt the heat (mainly because of Fenerbahçe, one of whose VIP fans is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself) and due to wide protests, had to change -- to “soften” -- the law on match fixing.

But it did not change the course of events. The TFF is under immense pressure from UEFA and is increasingly being squeezed by all the clubs. What it had to do was to move in swiftly and follow Article 58 of the Disciplinary Directive. It should have delivered due penalties -- like degrading the clubs to the second league or lowering their points considerably -- but it did not. The more it remained immobile, the louder the voices became of the accused clubs -- taking control over the outlook -- and on the opposing side, Galatasaray, which fought against every effort by the TFF to take another route for a “solution.”

So, in the end, all the clubs united in not preventing clubs from being relegated to a lower league for once. They now practically took over, leaving the TFF with no authority. Fenerbahçe and others argue that nothing should be done before the end of legal process (which could go on for between two-five years), while Beşiktaş says, “We should agree to boycott international championships altogether,” and Galatasaray keenly awaits a bigger mess to take the TFF to the court.

They are all stuck in blinding defiance, choosing to ignore the fact that UEFA acts with zero tolerance on such matters, and it will probably not wait much longer. With this in the air, if Aydınlar steps down this week, it will be even more complicated. The TFF will then have to elect a new board, more time will pass, Yıldırım managing Fenerbahçe by “remote control” from prison will be more manipulative and a road accident of a massive scale will become inevitable. Given such cultural patterns, I see no way of “wisening up.”

But, apparently, nobody can see the impact of a road crash. The farce of football has exposed the deep cracks in which morality is trying to survive, of ignorance, of “we against the world,” of “we will burn Rome if necessary”; and its impact may shatter the political geography, given the millions of football fans İstanbul's three big clubs have. It may make life difficult for Erdoğan, and when (not if) UEFA reacts by implementing a years-long ban on Turkish football (including the national team) it may whip up anti-Western sentiment. This is a very serious comedy indeed.

Previous articles of the columnist