Fixing scandal a la Italy?

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/8/2011 12:00:00 AM | Çetin Cem Yılmaz

Turkey’s football agenda is experiencing the biggest match-fixing scandal in its history but it is not unique among fellow Mediterranean countries. Turkey’s case is drawing similarities with the ongoing match-fixing case in Greece and Italy’s landmark ‘Calciopoli’ scandal in 2006

A football match-fixing investigation is grabbing headlines in Turkey but it is not the only country in the region to experience such a nadir as it draws comparisons with the famous “Calciopoli” case in Italy and the ongoing probe in Greece.

So far, 25 people have been arrested as part of the largest match-fixing investigation in Turkey’s history. The claims have centered on Fenerbahçe, several of whose wins on the way to the Spor Toto Super League title last season have come under suspicion. The probes have reportedly been continuing for the last eight months but the investigation only emerged following the July 3 detentions of more than 50 people, including Fenerbahçe’s president and vice president, a board member and two footballers.

Italy’s landmark 2006 football scandal similarly focused on the country’s top teams.

“The case was dealing with powerful clubs, Juventus, Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina,” Gabriele Marcotti, a prominent sports writer for ESPN and CNN, told the Hürriyet Daily News. At the end of “Calciopoli,” Juventus was relegated, while the other clubs were hit with point deductions.

[HH]Buying off referees

Greece is also experiencing an ongoing match-fixing case, but it includes far more lower-division clubs and only one top club, Olympiakos Piraeus, the Greek champions. Olympiakos’ president and the club’s defender, Avram Papadopoulos, are among those who have been summoned to testify, according to Kathimerini sports editor George Georgakopoulos – “the first for influencing referees and the second for illegal betting.”

In Calciopoli as well, the main case was the clubs trying to influence referees.

“What was done was subtle, it was hard to be 100 percent sure, but they did not want several [different] referees [for] their games,” Marcotti said, referring to Juventus’ attempt to avoid working with a referee in future games if they made a mistaken call against the club. “For example, Pierluigi Collina only officiated one Juventus games in four years. You know him; he is a big personality and is not afraid of making a mistake.”

The Italian case became public “after wiretaps were leaked to the media,” so “there was a huge flow of information in the case,” said Marcotti.

The week after the first detentions saw a significant number of leaks in the Turkish media as well. Photos, video stills and documents from evidences for alleged money delivering were published in the media and some evidence was even publicly released by the Turkish police.

“There is information pollution in this case right now,” said Zümrüt Yezdani, a lawyer specializing in sports law. “Maybe they released videos of the raid [to Fenerbahçe club] to show there was nothing unlawful in the detentions, but there should be a limit to the coverage of the news. Since Fenerbahçe is a club operating on the Istanbul bourse, it can even be considered a manipulation.”

In Greece, however, the information flow is quite limited.

“What we do get to know is leaks from the prosecutors’ reports, probably from the lawyers involved and this concerns the tapped telephone conversations the secret service is said to have recorded,” Georgakopoulos said. “Yet this has now stopped following an intervention by the judicial authorities.”

[HH]Effective deadline approaching fast

Normally a case this wide can take years to be completed, as seen in Turkey’s ongoing controversial alleged coup-plot cases, Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, but the decision as to whether Fenerbahçe and other clubs were involved in such a manipulation needs to be made soon, as the Turkish Football Federation must effectively provide UEFA with the teams that are going to take part in European competition next year by July 15.

“There is pressure from UEFA for rapid results as Olympiakos Volou will be playing in Europe next week and UEFA need to know if they are guilty so that they will be excluded, according to a letter UEFA sent to the Greek federation on Monday,” Georgakopoulos said.

The Italians’ road map was slightly different, since they suspended the federation and brought in an extraordinary head of the federation with wide powers that was given “30 days to reach a verdict,” Marcotti said.

In Turkey as well, the legal process will continue while the Turkish Football Federation will try to make its decision on the fate of Super League clubs Fenerbahçe, Sivasspor, Eskişehirspor and others. Of course, it would be front-page news if Fenerbahçe, one of Turkey’s most popular clubs, were relegated. The same goes for Greece.

“If there is a decision to relegate Olympiakos Piraeus, given that there is enough evidence for it, then you can expect bigger riots than the ones you may have seen in the news about Athens’s austerity plan,” Georgakopoulos said.



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