Right Field

Is Politics Behind the Fenerbahçe Chairman’s Match-Fixing Arrest?

The Financial Times’ Delphine Strauss and Funja Guler report on the possible political significance of yesterday’s arrest of Aziz Yıldırım, chairman of Fenerbahçe, 2010-11 Süper Lig champion:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister and a lifelong Fenerbahce fan, has called for a swift end to an affair staining Turkey’s international image, while Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister, claimed the investigation showed Turkey was becoming a “true state of law”. . . .

“There is no concrete proof, but there is a belief that the chairman of the football federation is chosen with the consent of the prime minister,” said Ugur Vardan, sports editor of the daily newspaper Radikal.

Fenerbahce has escaped the immediate threat of relegation: the chairman of Turkey’s football federation said on Monday that the organisation had not seen any evidence and so would not yet take disciplinary action.

The club, which dates back more than a century, once played against British forces occupying Constantinople. With its main rivals, Galatasaray and Besiktas, it has long dominated Turkish football and counts Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the republic’s founder, among its many millions of fans.

The arrests are politically sensitive because the police have now entered an area that “the Turkish people, regardless of their club affiliation, perceive as their personal sphere where their emotional pursuit of happiness takes place”, argued Okan Altiparmak, a film maker whose father played for Fenerbahce in the 1960s.

“Whatever the outcome, nothing will be the same,” Mr Vardan said. “There was a perception that the big three teams were untouchable. Now they have fallen from Mount Olympus to the realm of mortals.”

Meanwhile, Nihat Özdemir, the club’s vice chairman, described the arrest of Yıldırım as part of a “lynch campaign.” He added: “Even if we are tied up on the gallows, our last word would be ‘Fenerbahçe.’”

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.

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