Turkish football clubs voted down a Turkish Football Federation (TFF) proposal on Thursday to introduce a one-time amendment to regulations on match-fixing penalties, meaning that the teams involved in a match-fixing probe still face possible relegation.
The vote came during an extraordinary meeting of the TFF, which convened to discuss possible amendments to Article 58 of the federation's disciplinary regulations amid turmoil that has beset Turkish football since a massive match-fixing probe began in July. The rejected proposal set point reduction as the maximum penalty for teams accused of match-fixing as part of the judicial investigation.
Last season's champions Fenerbahçe, which is at the center of the match-fixing investigation, rejected plans to amend Article 58, saying the penalties should remain intact provided that the accused are given the right to defend themselves. Hours before the TFF meeting, Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım called for no change to regulations, which state that teams involved in match-fixing could face relegation.
In a statement delivered through his lawyer, Yıldırım, jailed since July pending trial in the massive match-fixing investigation, slammed TFF plans to propose penalties lighter than relegation, namely point reduction, as an attempt to “save certain teams.”
“This initiative will remain a dark stain on the history of Turkish football,” Yıldırım said.
Fenerbahçe Acting Chairman Nihat Özdemir, addressing the TFF convention, also opposed possible amendments to Article 58 and insisted that the accused should be given enough time to defend themselves in the face of accusations. “The accused are given thousands of pages of documents and are told to read them and prepare their defense in 20 days. This is like saying: ‘Don’t bother defending yourself. You are guilty anyway.’ This is how they are deprived of their right to defense,” he said, referring to the lengthy case file that contains mostly the text of wiretapped telephone conversations.
“We do not want our friends to face judges with their right to defense having been taken from them because of a decision made by the TFF,” Özdemir said, accusing the TFF of concluding before hand that Fenerbahçe is guilty and trying to find the best punishment now.
The meeting came after weeks of debates over whether the penalties that the teams involved in match-fixing face should be revised. A total of eight teams, including Turkish Super League heavyweights Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş, are also implicated in the match-fixing investigation, in addition to Fenerbahçe.
Beşiktaş Chairman Yıldırım Demirören, who is also the president of the Union of Clubs Foundation, said before the vote that measures should be taken to save Turkish football. “There are eight clubs involved [in the probe] so far. It seems that number will increase up to 12. Unfortunately Fenerbahçe is mentioned more than anyone [in the media] because of rating concerns. But eight teams are in this,” he said.
Demirören said the proposal to temporarily amend the Article 58 could be withdrawn, saying a decision on penalties could be delayed until the court issues its verdict.
Demirören also called for elections to elect a new administration for the TFF, saying this is necessary to renew confidence in the federation.
Galatasaray, who has been a staunch opponent of efforts to remove relegation as a penalty, however, opposed changes in the TFF administration. In an apparent response to Demirören’s concerns that too many teams could be hurt, Galatasaray Chairman Ünal Aysal said only one or two teams will probably face relegation. “Let’s not exaggerate this. Not all the eight teams [involved] will face relegation. This could be a concern for a team or two,” he told reporters.
‘The biggest crisis ever’
Speaking at the opening of the TFF meeting, TFF Chairman Mehmet Ali Aydınlar highlighted the challenge the match-fixing investigation poses to the federation and asked for support, not more pressure. Turkish football is experiencing its most serious crisis, not just of today but since it was founded in 1923 and it is impossible for the TFF to resolve it on our own,” Aydınlar told some 240 delegates in the Turkish capital Ankara.
“In this test we need peace, trust, stability and unity more than ever. Because we are not responsible for this problem, we want the help of all members from the football family for a solution,” he said in his opening speech.
“Seven months ago, I and 14 friends of mine were elected to lead the TFF. Ninety hours later, we were faced with the match-fixing probe. We were caught unprepared,” Aydınlar said.
He said the TFF has worked with the best of intentions since the investigation first got under way in July with a wave of detentions and insisted that the TFF is an impartial organization that strives to maintain an equal distance from all parties.
“We are not responsible for this. We expect support, not pressure,” he said. Aydınlar also said there are certain people who want to “deepen the chaos for petty interests,” but did not elaborate.
Aydınlar added that it was now time for the accused to present their defense, following which the TFF’s Ethics Board will complete a report about the match-fixing allegations. “We will not let anyone’s rights be violated as long as we remain in charge,” he said.