TFF move to settle rigging row raises even more questions

Embattled Turkish Federation President Yıldırım Demirören has opened up a new can of worms by saying match-fixing attempts did not get down to the pitch and for also referring 16 clubs, some of whom had not ever been mentioned in the ongoing rigging saga, to its Professional Football Disciplinary Committee for necessary action.

May 06, 2012, Sunday/ 12:03:00

A Turkish Football Federation (TFF) move attempting to settle things in the country’s football world has prompted even more questions than ever regarding an ongoing match-fixing investigation, which has plunged Turkish football into chaos since last July.

For months Turkey has been discussing the future of its football teams, which have been dragged through the mud and face temporary expulsion from the international football arena due to the match-fixing allegations. The federation has been the object of arrows of criticism for its slow-paced investigation, which is supposed to deliver a verdict to the teams suspected of being involving in rigging activities.

To give a sneak peek of the long-awaited decision, TFF President Yıldırım Demirören was in front of members of the press on Monday. He announced that the controversial regulation, Article 58, had been amended to penalize clubs involved in rigging attempts with point deductions as opposed to the former version, which stipulated relegation for the same offense. He also said the federation’s Ethics Committee did not find any trace of match-fixing on the pitch or evidence to suggest that there were rigging attempts, either, unlike what is claimed in an indictment of a court case into the match-fixing allegations or what was said in a leaked report from the previous Ethics Committee.

Demirören’s statements were far from calming public opinion in Turkey. The decision divided the actors and institutions of Turkish football into two sides -- supporters and opposers -- with people mostly gathering on the side of the opposers, apparently.

A “comedy of disgrace” were the words used by former TFF President Ata Aksu in explaining the recent development to Sunday’s Zaman. Not only was the amendment of Article 58 the issue when Demirören made the controversial statements, but he also announced that the TFF had widened its match-fixing investigation by referring 16 teams to the federation’s Professional Football Discipline Committee (PFDK) because of 22 games in which rigging activities were suspected to have taken place, and this included teams not implicated in the match-fixing allegations.

Aksu argued that the federation’s new strategy is “if everybody is involved, there is nothing,” meaning that the inclusion of more teams will make it seem as if there is nothing to worry about. For some, rather than eliminating the suspicions, the federation’s decision brought many more question marks into people’s minds. Beşiktaş board member Levent Erdoğan believes that Turkish football must be cleared, but not as the result of these types of actions, which lead people to have less faith in the federation’s decision-making and its intentions to clean up football in the country.

“I don’t get why all clubs are all of a sudden referred to the PFDK. Instead of picking the ones under suspicion, they categorize all of them the same way,” Erdoğan told reporters. “UEFA [Union of European Football Associations] is not asleep; it is following each development closely.” “The TFF decision is total comedy,” former TFF President Mehmet Ali Aydınlar said after Demirören spoke to the press.

Aydınlar argued that UEFA, the top football authority in Europe, will oppose the amendment to the article as they did during Aydınlar’s term in office. “I personally thought Article 58 was wrong. But it is not right to change it when an investigation is still under way,” he said.

In what came as a surprise to many, Aydınlar stepped down from Turkish football’s top post amidst the match-fixing debates in February, despite his earlier decision not to quit. The ever-delayed decision on the clubs and individuals with suspected involvement in match-fixing activities led to Aydınlar’s resignation. The Ethics Committee of the Aydınlar era said in the leaked report that there are serious concerns regarding the existence of match-fixing.

Though it goes usually unnoticed and is not addressed in either critical or praising statements, the TFF made another big change when it introduced Article 105, which paves the way for a delay of the penalties. With the new regulation, even if a team is penalized with a point reduction, it will be possible to put off the penalty. Last season’s champion Fenerbahçe remains at the center of the allegations, and its chairman Aziz Yıldırım has been behind bars since July 3, when a prosecutor started the investigation. The İstanbul-based club might be stripped of last season’s title if found guilty of match-fixing. Managers from Turkey’s two other football powerhouses, Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor, are also being tried as suspects in the ongoing case.

The unexpected move brought Galatasaray, whose officials have been delivering dissenting statements against the federation since the investigation began, under the spotlight, in addition to the teams implicated in the match-fixing scandal. The Galatasaray board called on the federation’s top brass to resign on Monday due to its handling of the situation and also said the club will start judicial proceedings against TFF personalities if the club is barred from playing in European competitions next season. Trabzonspor Chairman Sadri Şener has supported Galatasaray’s cause, saying the TFF board should step down immediately.

Galatasaray Vice Chairman Adnan Öztürk tweeted this week that he “laughed” at the referral of 16 clubs to the PFDK and argued that the amendment of Article 58 was done to save some teams, implying Fenerbahçe.

Former TFF Arbitration Board member Türker Arslan has told Sunday’s Zaman that the federation’s priority was to save clubs from relegation. He still believes that UEFA will step up and bar numerous Turkish teams from its competitions for the next couple of seasons. Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) member Kısmet Erkiner does not think that UEFA will penalize Turkish clubs for a change in the disciplinary regulations made by the federation.

Fenerbahçe has sided with the federation. The club’s deputy chairman, Nihat Özdemir, said at a press conference this week the updated Ethnics Committee report aligns with what Fenerbahçe has been alleging: no traces of match-fixing on the pitch.

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