Turkish football facing 'its most serious crisis'

Turkish football is facing its most serious crisis, the head of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) said on Thursday, under intense pressure to deal urgently with a match-fixing scandal which has caused turmoil in the domestic league.

Amid growing criticism of the TFF's handling of the affair, chairman Mehmet Ali Aydinlar called for unity and support from clubs at its extraordinary general meeting - seen as crucial to restoring the reputation of the multi-billion dollar league.

Pressure on the federation increased on Wednesday when UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said it must act quickly and take disciplinary action against those allegedly involved in the match-fixing, including some of the country's top clubs.

The scandal came to light last July when police detained 60 people in raids across Turkey, including Aziz Yildirim (pictured), the chairman of league champions Fenerbahce. He remains in jail.

In December a Turkish court issued an indictment against 93 officials and players, including Yildirim and Olgun Peker, an ex-president of second division club Giresunspor.

They are both accused of being gang leaders among a raft of charges ranging from match-fixing to the payment of bribes.

Original media reports said some 19 first division matches were being investigated and the indictment refers to around a dozen.

"Turkish football is experiencing its most serious crisis, not just of today but since it was founded in 1923," Aydinlar told some 240 delegates in the Turkish capital Ankara.

"In this test we need peace, trust, stability and unity more than ever. Because we are not responsible for this problem, we want help from all of you members in the footballing family for a solution," he said in his opening speech.

However, there was little sign of unity in comments from many delegates, who expressed fierce opposition to proposed changes in sanctions imposed for match-fixing.

Under the reform, backed by many clubs, clubs believed to be involved in match-fixing will no longer face relegation but instead only a deduction of points.

BLACK STAIN

Strikingly, Fenerbahce is among the clubs opposed to easing punishments and says the federation must wait for completion of the legal process before acting. In a written statement from his jail cell, Yildirim called the proposal "a black stain on the history of Turkish football".

UEFA insists however that the federation cannot wait and has not ruled out excluding clubs from future European competitions.

Galatasaray, which has not been named in the investigation, also opposes changing the regulations.

"As we have said before, you can't change the rules when the game is being played," Galatasaray Chairman Unal Aysal told the meeting.

After the scandal broke, the TFF excluded Fenerbahce from this season's Champions League, with runners-up Trabzonspor taking their place.

The first hearing in the court case is scheduled for February 14. The indictment names eight clubs, including Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor, who are currently in the Europa League. Fourteen players are among the defendants.

Controversy surrounding the match-fixing allegations was fuelled last month when parliament passed a law cutting prison sentences for match-rigging from a maximum 12 years to three.

The legal reform stirred rare dissent in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK party but MPs defied a call by President Abdullah Gul to reconsider the reform.

He argued that it would mean the law no longer represented a sufficient deterrent and encouraged the view that it was passed to benefit certain individuals.

The court investigation has alleged manipulation in 19 matches, including Fenerbahce's 4-3 victory over Sivasspor which saw them clinch the league championship on the final day of last season when the allegations first surfaced.


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