It is not only about football anymore. Turkey’s match-fixing probe, which started in July is an important moment for Turkey’s juduciary system, it is about the future of the ruling AK Party, which faces a potential leadership struggle after the Prime Minister had an operation. No doubt, it is also a thorn in Turkish economy.
After five months of work, last Friday prosecuters presented indictments which called for hundreds years of imprisonment for Turkish football’ s popular administrators, coaches and players. Among them are the president of Turkey’s reigning football champions Fenerbahce, Aziz Yildirim, who is also a very important businessman, operating in construction and the arms trade, a bunch of his assistants, and famous players and coaches.
If they are found guilty, it will have big impact on Turkish football, because the Turkish Football Association will have to decide whether 104-year-old giant club Fenerbahce is among a group of teams to be relegated for involvement in match-fixing or whether it will simply punish the direct culprits.
It has become a big political issue in Turkey, not only because millions of Fenerbahce supporters are threatening the ruling AK Party government with votes against, but also because of the chaos in Turkish judiciary system. The punishments in match-fixing law are considered disproportionate. A few weeks ago a man was sentenced to 24 years in prison for killing and beheading his girlfrien. He will spend 14 years in prison at most according to Turkey’s penal code. But prosecutors asked for 59 to 156 years of sentence for Aziz Yildirim.
To correct this imbalance, the Turkish parliament came up with a surprising and unprecedented cross-party compromise and immediately ratified the related legal arrangement. But last week Turkish President, Abdullah Gul vetoed it saying that it looks like an arrangement to save some certain people. And this action in turn revealed the leadership struggle in the ruling AK Party: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had undergone a successful hospital operation, and was on sick leave, leading to speculation over his health. People started to draw links with these law-making efforts. Opposition parties fuelled the debate by claiming that Gul, and some others were taking positions for a possible Erdogan exit from politics. Moreover, Prime Minister Erdogan stood behind the new legal arrengements and wanted his party to ratify it without a change, forcing President Gul to approve it as it is.
The Turkish Football Association, afraid of the economic implications of changing balances in Turkish League is applying policy of wait-and-see. Not only the Association, but most of Turkey is waiting on the outcome: the suspects are hoping for the amendment in the law which will decrease the punishment terms. The Opposition is anticipating how to exploit another hole in the AK Party ranks. Turkish football fans are also waiting, simply for the return of fair play.