Fenerbahçe fans march for ‘justice’

Fenerbahçe fans march for ‘justice’

Fenerbahçe fans march for ‘justice’

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Thousands of Fenerbahçe fans gathered on Istanbul’s Anatolian side on Feb. 16 to protest a match-fixing verdict putting the club’s chairman at risk of a lifetime ban from football.

The club’s supporter groups and the board called on the fans to gather before the Spor Toto Super League game against Kasımpaşa, but the occasion was much more than a football match.

“Establish a [political] party, Aziz Yıldırım,” fans chanted to the Fenerbahçe chairman, whose six-year, three-month sentence for attempting to manipulate football games and forming an unarmed gang was approved by the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals last month.

Yıldırım has applied to the Constitutional Court against his sentence, but if he loses the appeal, he will have to step down as the Fenerbahçe chairman, after 13 years at the helm, where he oversaw five Turkish league titles. The last one, however, came under scrutiny with the match-fixing case, which focused on the 2010-2011 Turkish championship.

Yıldırım, along with many Fenerbahçe fans, have championed the idea that the case was a plot to take over the coveted seat at the popular sports club, with an estimated 20 million-strong fan base.
“As I said from the very beginning, the court case regarding match-fixing in Turkey is a political case, and the ruling of this case has also been made politically,” Yıldırım said last month. “I do not respect or recognize this ruling.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government is battling a wide-ranging corruption investigation, has also criticized the court’s ruling.

Erdoğan, who has cast the corruption scandal swirling around his government as a smear campaign by a “parallel state” within the judiciary, defended Yıldırım, saying he was the victim of a similar plot.
“The parallel state took a very finely calculated step here as well,” Erdoğan told a press conference on Jan. 20.

The prime minister’s supporters say the followers of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose “Cemaat” (community in Turkish) network is influential within the police and judiciary, are behind the corruption probe.

Unlike Erdoğan, however, Yıldırım has consistently defended the idea that the match-fixing case was politically motivated, famously saying during a hearing: “What match-fixing? The country is going down the drain, and they are talking about match-fixing.”

On Feb. 16, however, Fenerbahçe fans rallying in Kadıköy did not appear on the same page as Erdoğan.

They criticized him with the slogan “Thief Tayyip Erdoğan,” referring to the graft probe, as they did in some home matches this season.

The family of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, one of the protesters killed during last year’s anti-government Gezi Park protests, was also present following an invitation from the fans. Korkmaz, 19, was a Fenerbahçe fan, and a song devoted to him has become a fixture among Fener fans during this year’s games.