Speaking about the importance of the event because of the difficulties his club has experienced in the courts over the past year, Fenerbahçe Club Supreme Council President Yüksel Günay said: “We are going to open our congress with great participation. Our members are talking about recent events. How did we get to this point?”
It is true that this election warrants more attention than most. Although board member Murat Çelikel has announced his candidacy, it seems that current Chairman Aziz Yıldırım will be re-elected unopposed, despite the fact that he is facing trial in an alleged match-fixing case. The club and everyone who is associated with it have all shown their loyalty, picketing in support of the detained chairman and gifting him with every single cup and award the various successful Fenerbahçe branches have brought home since this investigation took off last summer. It therefore seems unlikely that he will be losing any popularity contests any time soon.
One can be forgiven for wondering whether it is prudent to elect a chairman who is currently being held in jail. This calls forth an interesting set of questions, as the issue of chairman in jail has never before happened in Turkish football.
Where is he headed?
This first question has been on Turkey’s mind since Yıldırım was first hauled off last summer. Fenerbahçe has never ceased to hope that its fearless leader would return to his seat and we seem no closer to finding out, as the trial continues to drag itself out with few clues as to the outcome.
There is always speculation of course and many are of the opinion that no one will be found guilty. Such rumors have grown since Yıldırım Demirören took over the head of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF).
Then there are the false alarms. The most recent was that two commentators for Al Jazeera Türk this week seemed to tweet that Yıldırım had been released. The news naturally tore through the Internet and caused widespread jubilation -- or anger, depending on your affiliations -- only to be proven false. The commentators claimed it was intended as speculation only. The truth hit Fener fans hard and they campaigned against the people who made the comments.
Running a club from the clink
As no one knows for sure where Yıldırım will end up, let’s imagine a worst-case scenario where he is re-elected and then does go to prison. Is it possible to continue to run the club in this manner?
According to columnist Reha Muhtar, it is possible, though not exactly desirable. “Over the period of time he has been detained, Aziz has conducted himself and Fenerbahçe’s position very well,” he writes.
“He did not allow a line to be drawn between him and the club. He countered every move meant to draw a line between the two. In doing this, Yıldırım was in cooperation with the last board of directors on every matter and has directed them flawlessly while detained,” he continues on to say, noting that giving him this sort of power, coupled with the fact that many feel it is unethical to counter him in his current state, is not wise.
On the other hand, Ali Şen, a previous Fenerbahçe chairman, is a strong proponent of not challenging Yıldırım. “It is inappropriate for anyone to oppose Yıldırım this year. If they were going to be a candidate they should have done so four years ago, when Yıldırım was outside. To oppose someone on the inside and become a candidate is not right. We are going to be on Yıldırım’s side in the elections,” he explained, adding, “Even if the candidate is a close friend of mine, my vote is going to Yıldırım.”
Can Fener go on without him?
There is also the question of whether or not someone else could replace Yıldırım. No one can argue that Fenerbahçe has been wildly successful under him, winning cup after cup in football, basketball, volleyball and more. Moreover, the man is just popular with his people, who seem to love him all the more since his detention.
Fenerbahçe Deputy Chairman Murat Özaydınlı spoke on the matter at a support dinner for Yıldırım on Wednesday. “We say ‘Republic of Fenerbahçe’ and this republic won’t fall, it will stand strong. God-willing, we will see our dear chairman among us soon. Even if he is not with us, I know that he is in all of our hearts. He never left, he is always there,” he stated, as if he considered any attempt to run for the position a declaration of war on the club.
Yıldırım is even popular amongst his enemies, as Galatasaray Chairman Ünal Aysal confirmed recently. “I find him to be very likeable and I do not know why he is being tried. If one day Aziz Bey returns to his job, I will be the first to receive him,” he explained. “Of course, when he mentioned Galatasaray in his statements I had to reply. This is work, we do not have any personal problems,” he added.