Galatasaray expels ex-players Hakan Şükür, Arif Erdem after government warning
ISTANBULThe Galatasaray sports club’s executive board has expelled former footballers Hakan Şükür and Arif Erdem, hours after government members criticized the club for voting to keep them as members at a general assembly.
The executive board announced after an emergency meeting late on March 26 that Şükür and Erdem, who both have standing arrest warrants against them for their alleged links to the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, were dismissed along with 2,700 other members of the club “for failing to pay their annual fees six years in a row.”
Gülen is widely believed to have orchestrated the failed July 15, 2016, coup attempt.
The expulsion came after Turkey’s sports minister and a deputy prime minister criticized Galatasaray’s decision not to publically disown the players.
Galatasaray assembly members voted in their annual meeting on March 25 to expel several members of the club due to their alleged links to the Gülen network, including jailed former Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, former Bursa Gov. Şahabettin Harput, former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, the lead prosecutor in the Ergenekon coup plot trial, and former footballer İsmail Demiriz, among others.
However, they voted by majority to reject expulsion of Şükür, who led the league in scoring with Galatasaray three times and is the Turkish national team’s top-ever scorer with 51 goals from 112 caps, and Erdem, a former Turkish international.
Sports and Youth Minister Akif Çağatay Kılıç praised the club’s decision, saying that “it is the right move.”
“They [Galatasaray] did the right thing. Because there is no place in our clubs for those who say that they are with the betrayers of the people, country and the state, and who escape from the country,” Kılıç said on March 27, adding that the previous decision was not right.
“The previous decision caused reaction among Galatasaray and the public,” he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also commented on the expulsions, saying that those who refused to expel Şükür and Erdem “are a marginal group.”
“When the majority leaves the meeting, a small group inside makes the decision. It would be wrong to attribute this incident to a community such as Galatasaray,” Yıldırım said March 27.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak on March 26 criticized the decision not to expel the two.
“It cannot be accepted for Galatasaray to have taken this controversial decision,” Kaynak said in a televised interview on private broadcaster CNN Türk.
“There are people who have been expelled whose links to [the Fethullahist Terror Organization] FETÖ are not as clear as Hakan Şükür, who was one of the symbolic names of that movement. If Galatasaray protects such figures after the July 15 [coup attempt], which deeply harmed the people of all political sides, they will ruin Galatasaray, a century-old sports club,” he added.
Both Şükür and Erdem were part of the celebrated Galatasaray squad that won the UEFA Cup in 2000.
Şükür, a former lawmaker for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who currently resides in the United States, has been vocal about his support for Gülen and his followers, while condemning the coup attempt.
There is a standing arrest warrant on terror charges for both Şükür and Erdem, who is also believed to have fled abroad.