Yıldırım to prevail in Fener congress
Yıldırım will extend his post at Fenerbahçe for another three-year period, but he will not be able to make his victory speech. Hürriyet photo
Fenerbahçe club members will complete their ballots on May 19 in an election that holds no surprises but promises lots of drama.
Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, who is currently jailed pending charges for alleged involvement in a match-fixing case, is the only candidate in the presidential election at the Turkish sports club. He will be voted in for his seventh term as Fener’s chair, but he will not be in attendance to give a victory speech as usual.
Yıldırım, arguably the most powerful man in Turkish football, has been in the Metris Prison since early July, on charges not only of attempting to manipulate games, but also of “forming and leading an unarmed crime organization aiming to gain financial income through match-fixing.” He is the number-two suspect in the ongoing match-fixing case, after former Giresunspor boss and alleged mob leader Olgun Peker, but he is definitely the most high-profile name in the case, which lists a total of 93 officials, players and coaches from more than a dozen football clubs. However, due to his power and the fact that he holds the coveted Fenerbahçe chair, the focus has been on Yıldırım since the case became public on July 3, 2011.
‘Not about match-fixing’
In several statements made through his lawyer, Yıldırım has repeatedly claimed that the case was “not about match-fixing” and instead was a plot to take over Fenerbahçe. The idea was championed by many Fenerbahçe fans, who took it to the streets several times, with the slogan “[The Gülen] Community cannot mess with Fener,” in reference to Fethullah Gülen’s Islamic community, whose secret agenda is believed to include taking over the Fenerbahçe board.
The head of Fenerbahçe’s Advisory Council, Yüksel Günay, has also said it is a secular team and that the club will not allow “religious sects” to influence it. “Fenerbahçe is a community of 23 million people committed to the Constitution of the Turkish Republic and the revolutions of [Republic founder Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk,” Günay said in a meeting of the club’s top brass in July 2011, just weeks after the arrests of Yıldırım and four club officials. “No sect can live in this club.”
“Fenerbahçe has had presidents, prime ministers generals and admirals, ministers and deputies as members of its congress,” Günay said. “Now a club like this is [accused of being] affiliated with crime.”
On May 19, there will be no other candidates aside from Yıldırım, because it was considered “not appropriate to run against Yıldırım in a situation like this,” as Ali Şen, a former chairman, put it. However, the congress is likely to issue messages of unity at the sports club.
If Yıldırım can complete his next three-year term, he will have spent 17 years as the club’s chair, making him the longest-serving chairman, breaking Şükrü Saracoğlu’s record.
Yıldırım is already the most successful leader at the club’s history. After winning the elections by a single vote in 1998, he has overseen a change in the club’s stature, moving the football team into a financially stable position, unlike its economically troubled rivals, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş. Its five league titles were behind Galatasaray’s seven championships during that spell, but Yıldırım’s Fenerbahçe was the first Turkish team to make it to the Deloitte Money League with its earnings in 2009. He has also made some high-profile signings, including Roberto Carlos, Nicolas Anelka and Ariel Ortega.
Arguably Yıldırım’s greater successes have been in other areas, however, with the team becoming increasingly dominant in other sports such as basketball and volleyball.