Thousands of Fenerbahçe fans gathered in Kadıköy, İstanbul on Sunday to protest accusations leveled against their team in a match-fixing probe in the first public rally held in Turkey by a football club.
Fans braving cold wore masks of Aziz yıldırım, chairman of the İstanbul club who has been in jail pending trial since July as part of the investigation, and demanded a fair trial for suspects. Fenerbahçe coach Aykut kocaman, vice chairmen Ali Koç and Murat Özaydınlı and other Fenerbahçe executives joined the fans in Kadıköy Square. Former players and executives of the İstanbul team were also present at the rally.
Prosecutor Mehmet Berk seeks up to 150 years in jail for Yıldırım on charges of match-fixing and setting up an organized crime gang. Yıldırım denies the charges.
In a message for the fans at the rally, Yıldırım reiterated that he was not guilty. “We are clean and we stand tall. We are cleaner than anyone who claims to be clean,” Yıldırım said in his message. Fans interrupted the reading of the message frequently by slogans in favor of the team and Yıldırım. “We know that the pain we are going through at the moment will only make us more powerful,” Yıldırım also wrote.
Addressing the crowd, Kocaman said he was “proud to be here.” Speaking to reporters afterwards, Kocaman said the rally was a sign of Fenerbahçe's strength.
Fenerbahçe, last season's champion, has already been barred from the UEFA's Champions League and faces the possibility of relegation. It is now the second-placed team in the Turkish league after Galatasaray.
Match-fixing accusations enraged many Fenerbahçe fans and led to speculation that the investigation has political motives. Addressing the rally, Can Bartu, a former player of Fenerbahçe, said suspects should be given a fair trial when the hearings start on Feb. 14. Another former player, Ogün Altıparmak, said Yıldırım should be released pending trial.
Yıldırım said he was “touched and filled with pride” by Fenerbahçe fans' strong support and said his trial would be a “turning point” in the history of the Turkish sports. “We will disprove each and every accusation directed at myself and other Fenerbahçe executives one by one. Those who carry out this operation and those who try to finish off Fenerbahçe will fail and disappear in the dusty pages of history,” said Yıldırım.