“The new law will be a serious deterrent for preventing violence and disorder at sporting events because the new law includes preventative measures,” said Parliamentary Justice Commission Deputy Chairman Hakkı Köylü, who drafted the bill before his party sent it to the Justice Commission for review.
The former law was passed in April in the hope that it would pave the way for better conduct in the world of sports with the support of Turkish football clubs; however, when the match-fixing investigation started in the summer that followed, the shortcomings of the law, which also included articles on match-fixing and attempts to manipulate games, were exposed. Köylü said the new law will fix these shortcomings.
He said the discussion surrounding the final version of the bill has provided for many people, including politicians, journalists and sportsmen, valuable experience. It has been alleged that the bill passed by Parliament would, within six months, increase the influence of gangs, including Ergenekon. Some claimed that the reintroduction of the bill would negatively affect the ongoing match-fixing investigation.
After the bill, agreed to by four parliamentary political parties, was vetoed by President Abdullah Gül, the controversy surrounding the bill started to heat up. It is claimed there is a disagreement between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Gül. Instructed by Erdoğan, Parliament still enacted the bill without making any changes to it, and President Gül had to approve it.
The reintroduction of the bill into Parliament has resulted in the misconception that the law was being passed to save the suspects of a match-fixing investigation. President Gül also underlined this misconception when he initially sent it back to Parliament to be discussed again. Those who hold this misconception ask the AK Party why criminals are being saved and why the government is backpedalling. The fact that before the bill was introduced to Parliament the football clubs reached an agreement and convinced the four parliamentary parties as to the necessity of the new arrangements has failed to eliminate the suspicions raised by the bill. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who is fiercely opposed to reducing the sentences for match-fixers, has expressed complaints about the bill as well. Arınç, who had claimed that after President Gül vetoed the bill no one would dare to reintroduce it into Parliament, has had to realize he was mistaken.
After the football clubs reached an agreement and convinced the four parliamentary parties as to the necessity of the new arrangements, Erdoğan lobbied for the approval of the changes and adopted a firm stance even after the president vetoed the first version. Köylü was instrumental in pushing the bill through Parliament because he had served as the head of a relevant sub-commission under the Justice Commission.
Köylü, who is the AK Party deputy for Kastamonu province, shared his assessment of the match-fixing law, the process of drafting the law and the debates surrounding it with Today’s Zaman.
Did the controversy stemming from the bill erupt because of the misconception that Parliament rushed to pass the bill before the June 12 general elections last year?
The Bill on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder at Sporting Events was not hurriedly passed by Parliament. There was two years of preliminary work conducted before the bill was submitted to the Speaker’s Office of Parliament.
However, this is the image that has been perceived by people. Because of the escalating violence in stadiums, football club administrators asked Parliament to pass the bill before the new season starts.
Who has contributed to the bill during the drafting process?
Law experts from the Youth and Sports General Directorate (GSGM), the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), and the football clubs themselves, among others. In other words, all parties that are affected by the issue have actively participated the process.
We only attended the meetings during the last phase. They presented the draft to us. There were some technical problems, but we have corrected them.
We attended the meetings in the final phases and they presented the draft to us.
Have the football clubs demanded that the law only introduces penalties for acts of football hooliganism?
In order to prevent escalating violence in stadiums, this was one of the main items on their agendas. Eliminating match-fixing claims that damage the image of the Turkish football sector was another important issue for them.
The current discipline regulations and the law enacted in 2004 have failed to prevent violence and disorder at sporting events. The new law has been prepared in order to eliminate the deficiencies of current regulations. Imprisonment is an important deterrent, but another penalty to be imposed for acts of football hooliganism will be football banning orders. For this reason, stadiums will be equipped with security cameras and all the necessary technical devices. For example, by installing a personally identifiable ticketing system, those who resort to violence can be identified immediately.
Since penalties and sanctions applied to match-fixing crimes were not clearly defined, match-fixing was the most prominent problem in Turkish sport. Unfortunately, current discipline regulations and the law enacted in 2004 have proved unsuccessful. Because it is very difficult to prove match-fixing claims, the issue has become an urban legend which has damaged the reputation of the whole Turkish football community. Thus, match-fixing crimes have been included in the scope of the proposed law and no one has opposed the suggested punitive measures for match-fixing crimes.
It has been perceived by the public that Parliament has backpedaled on this issue. Do you agree with this?
The legislative process is transparent. Parliament drafts the bill, after which the president sends it back to Parliament for a second hearing, or the Constitutional Court chooses to abolish it. This time, the president sent it back to Parliament for a second hearing.
In response to demands from relevant parties, Parliament can revise the bill before or after the bill goes into force. This is the way the legislative process works in many countries. One third of the French penal code has been revised before the law has gone into force.
This process does not mean that Parliament has backpedalled.
It is claimed that Parliament has decided not to fight with criminal gangs that have been operating within the sporting industry for a long time.
This is nonsense! While thoughts on the effectiveness of punishment vary the length of the jail sentence is not the only criterion. Moreover, establishing or being a member of an organization that interferes with matches in order to obtain unfair gains is defined as a crime in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
If a club administrator commits a match-fixing crime, the sentence will be increased by half. Claims that Parliament has decided not combat criminal organizations in sport are unfair.
What would you say about claims that the four political parties in Parliament reached an agreement that would make life easier for match-fixers? How could the parties reach such a misguided agreement? Why? Is this possible?
Those who voiced these claims either are ill-intentioned or profoundly ignorant.
These claims are unreasonable. Would a football player dare to rig a game if he knew that he would be sentenced to at least one year’s imprisonment? For what benefit would he be risking his career?
Similarly, a club administrator who commits a match-fixing crime will both lose his position and face a sentence of four-and-a-half years in prison.
President Gül has expressed his views and presented them to Parliament.
It is quite normal that these debates have involved President Gül. Both President Gül and Parliament have fulfilled their constitutional duties.
I have dealt with 80 percent of the claims personally because I have attended the law’s drafting process from the beginning.
Since the 2004 law has failed to prevent violence and disorder at sporting events, we are aiming to make the new law more effective. We want to have a clean start to the new season. Both the football clubs and law experts are demanding an effective law.
Has the previous season been ignored while discussions about the new season continue?
I don’t know. According to the indictment that was accepted by the court, there have been some ongoing investigations. The prosecutors launched the probe into match-fixing claims before the law went into force.
UEFA will support latest version of law
Some people have described the latest version of the law as an amnesty for suspects in current match-fixing investigations. Was this your intention?
These are both disturbing and unfounded claims. It cannot be considered as an amnesty. We have also introduced additional sanctions which state that prison sentences handed to match fixers cannot be reprieved or commuted to a fine.
It has been suggested that the sentence was considerably high under the old law and has therefore been reduced in the new law. We would be happy to discuss the length of the sentences. However, the most upsetting part of the issue is that many in the media have presented our discussions as offering amnesty to those suspected of match-fixing.
They also claim that the suspects will be released if prison sentences are reduced.
This is a possibility. In light of the possibility of reduced sentences the court may decide in favor of the suspects and they would be released pending trial. The court may think that suspects who are facing lower prison sentences would not try to escape or obscure the evidence. That is at the discretion of the court. Some suspects were released but the court did not release all of them.
It cannot be considered as an amnesty. Underlining the Law on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder at Sporting Events will be shown as an example for whole world, TFF officials noted that the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) supports the Law.
Despite the latest changes, would UEFA support the law?
In the fervor of the debate, the amendments have been misunderstood by the public. However, UEFA understands the importance of the law. In my opinion, UEFA will produce a positive evaluation of the latest version of the law.
If UEFA uses the law as an example to others at the meeting to be held in March, we should not be surprised.
Will the court currently hearing the match-fixing case be changed after the law comes into force?
Yes, it will change. Because the maximum sentence will be decreased to three years, the case will be heard by the Criminal Court of First Instance, not the High Criminal Court. If there is a crime and evidence, what does that change?
It is claimed that if the law had not been changed, the suspect would have been tried at a court with special authorization.
If a criminal organization uses violent means to force people to rig a game then the case will be tried at a court with special authorization, without considering the upper limit. Therefore, the length of the sentence does not matter in this case. If the evidence shows that there was pressure and violence, the case will be referred to a court with special authorization.
Looking at criticism of evidence collection processes
The law allows prosecutors to request authorization for wiretapping. What are your comments about criticisms over evidence collection processes in the case?
There is no need to worry. Despite the proposed introduction of reduced sentences for match fixers, prosecutors can still request authorization for wiretapping during the evidence collection process.
They could not do this under the law that Parliament passed in 2004. We have insisted on this article in both the former and amended version of the law. I ask those who criticize the amendment: “How could a law that allows prosecutors to request authorization for wiretapping pave the way for the formation of gangs?”
One of our fellow deputies described how “Parliament fell in defeat to the Ergenekon of sports.”
How could an AK Party deputy claim that Parliament has been defeated by Ergenekon, which is accused of organizing a plot against his party’s government?
These words certainly go beyond their purpose. They could ask, “How have the parties been deceived?”
They ask it too. How has it all happened and how have these parties reached an agreement on one issue?
The representatives of football clubs have conceived the parties by explaining that the sentences given to match-fixers were too high. Moreover, many people have voiced this opinion before.
It is said that if the investigation continues, all football clubs would go bankrupt. What is your opinion about this?
Why would the clubs go bankrupt? Those who resort to violence will be detected and punished. Any football player or administrator involved in a match-fixing crime will be punished individually. Punishing the criminals is one thing; the situation of the clubs is another.
What will happen if a club whose administrator has been charged with match-fixing is relegated?
If the court found the administrator guilty, there would be sanctions for the club within the framework of discipline regulation of the TFF and UEFA. The two regulatory bodies can decide to either remove points from the club or relegate it from the league. A football club does not go bankrupt just because it has lost points or been relegated from the league.
I would like to stress the contradictions in claims about the new law. The amendments will not affect the ongoing investigation. Both the investigation into match-fixing and the ongoing court case will continue. If a crime is committed, sanctions will be imposed. While some claim that the law has been passed to give the suspects a reprieve, others argue that clubs will go bankrupt because of the law. Neither of them is true.
Some people claim that this law will strengthen the hand of organized crime in Turkish sport. This is utter nonsense.
If the maximum sentence had been set at three years from the beginning, everybody would have applauded the latest proposals. All these debates will soon be forgotten and the effectiveness of the new law will speak for itself.
The relationship between politicians and football clubs is being questioned. What is your relationship with football clubs?
My only relationship with football clubs is going to matches, if I find the time.
Which club do you support?
I am not a serious football fan. As a politician, I do not want to say who I support. I’m afraid that they would distort my comments if I reveal who I support.