Now that the league season is over, it is high time to raise the question: What will happen to the Turkish teams that earn tickets to compete in Europe?
Turkish football teams have an uncertain relationship with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) since the match-fixing scandal was exposed last July. In a much-criticized move, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) barred last season’s champion Fenerbahçe from the Champions League, a top-level European club competition, last August due to its implication in the scandal, and handed its rights to runner-up Trabzonspor. Fenerbahçe appealed the TFF decision, but the UEFA approved it, which lead Fenerbahçe to file a lawsuit against both institutions at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). The club later withdrew the lawsuit in order to prevent Turkish football from paying a price like possibly being suspended from European football.
A series of decisions made by the TFF on the clubs and individuals with suspected involvement in the rigging scandal led to concerns regarding possible UEFA sanctions on Turkish football teams. Banning all of the country’s football teams temporarily from the European competitions is one of the options on the table, according to Turkish media, while some argue that only implicated teams might be barred and others will be allowed to take part in the events in accordance with normal procedure. No punishment at all is a third option, but seemingly the least popular one.
Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency last week reported an interview, which suggested that UEFA President Michel Platini told former Minister of Trade Kürşat Tüzmen that no Turkish clubs will be allowed to compete in Europe if the TFF does not relegate the teams suspected of match-fixing to a lower division.
In a controversial move, Yıldırım Demirören’s TFF did not punish any teams in the rigging scandal but imposed sanctions against 10 individuals and suspended them from official football competitions for a set period of time, ranging from one to three years.
Galatasaray, which was not implicated in the match-fixing case, but was scrutinized by the TFF as part of its own separate investigation, hopes that possible UEFA sanctions will not affect them and has avoided making any comments about what will happen. “The price for it will be paid for sure but I hope it won’t be a heavy one,” said the club Chairman Ünal Aysal in a report by Zaman daily earlier this week. He noted that Galatasaray will take legal action should it be banned from Europe due to the TFF decision.
Later in an interview with NTV Spor, Aysal argued that the TFF ripped apart all of the UEFA’s criteria with its latest decisions and accused the federation’s executives of not fulfilling their pre-election promises. “They were supposed to make decisions to protect Turkish football and boost its prestige. But the opposite happened,” he said, adding, “It is impossible for UEFA to approve these decisions.”
Before the TFF delivered the verdicts, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking at a UEFA Congress in İstanbul last month said that individuals, not clubs, should be punished for the rigging scandal. He also discussed his idea with the UEFA president but was told that such an approach is not in line with UEFA criteria. But at the end of the day, clubs were cleared of charges while numerous executives were penalized.
“There are some things that UEFA cannot accept, such as differentiating individuals from their clubs and seeking the traces of match-fixing to the pitch [to punish a club on charges of rigging],” Aysal said as he criticized the TFF. He also urged the changing of the TFF executive board.
According to reports by Turkish media outlets, Trabzonspor is hopeful that just like last year, Fenerbahçe will be barred from next season’s European competitions, which will pave the way for the Black Sea club to play in the Champions League again. If Fenerbahçe is not punished, Trabzonspor will play in the Europa League, second-tier European club competition, since it finished the championship playoffs in third place.
The Vatan daily reported this week, quoting anonymous Turkish sources close to the UEFA, that if suspicions emerge, the top European football authority won’t impose sanctions on any teams other than Fenerbahçe and Trabzonspor, the two teams at the center of the match-fixing allegations. Former TFF President Mehmet Ali Aydınlar had earlier argued that if teams implicated in the allegations are not penalized, the UEFA might ban Turkish football teams from European competitions for five years.
Another development occurred on Thursday when the UEFA announced that the deadline to submit bids to host the European Football Championship in 2020 were extended for an indefinite period of time. The deadline was initially set for May 15 and the only bidding country was Turkey. Sports writer Mehmet Demirkol said on NTV Spor that the TFF’s decision over the match-fixing scandal might be the reason why UEFA did not wish to get stuck with Turkey as the host nation for Euro 2020. The other reason is Turkey’s bid to host the Summer Olympics in the same year.