Match fixing allegations from Galatasaray’s game played last weekend threaten to mar the 2014/15 Turkish Super Lig.
First, the backstory.
When Besiktas Chairman Suleyman Seba died before this season started, the Turkish Football Federation was quick to name this season in his honor. Seba was considered a highly respected member of the soccer community in Turkey. He was seen as a paragon of virtue in sport. He was not only seen as the quintessential Besiktas man by fans of that club, but even fans of rival clubs held him in great esteem. Unfortunately, this season may have put his famous quote, said back in 1993 when Besiktas lost the league title to Galatasaray on the final day of the 1992-93 season, back into the spotlight:
“It is better to finish an honorable second than a tainted first.” Suleyman Seba, Besiktas chairman 1982-2000.
This past Saturday, Galatasaray was hosting Genclerbirligi in week 32 of this season’s Turkish Super League. Galatasaray would go on to win the match 1-0 with a goal in the 67th minute from Wesley Sneijder. The goal itself would be the subject of controversy. Videos posted on Vine showed Genclerbirligi goalkeeper Ferhat Kaplan leaping to his left, trying to recover, but the ball went in. Accusations were made that Kaplan intentionally let the ball go in so that Galatasaray could win the game. From the video, it looks like Kaplan jerked his hand back and didn’t completely outstretch his arm to make a decent attempt to save the ball.
Another video on Vine that wasn’t so widespread was an offside trap attempted earlier on in the second half of the game. When Yasin Oztekin was attacking from the right and going into the penalty area, he made the pass to Umut Bulut. While the Genclerbirligi defenders seemed to get out of the way, presumably to execute an offside trap, they failed to realize that a fellow defender was keeping Bulut onside. Some people implied that the Genclerbirligi defenders intentionally got out of the way so that Bulut could score, even though Bulut would whiff the attempt.
When the match was over, the match fixing allegations came from all sides. Besiktas forward Demba Ba tweeted that “some people in this world must really be ashamed” after the match was over. Another tweet came from TV pundit and former referee Ahmet Cakar, who found the goal to be strange and asked why Kaplan was pulling back his hand on the goal. Bilal Niyaz, who plays for fourth tier side Bergama Belediyespor, tweeted that he was ashamed to play soccer in the country, and that anyone who doesn’t think this match was fixed should feel the wrath of God. Moestapha El Kabir favorited a tweet sent his way in Dutch saying that his team tried, but that his team’s keeper and Bogdan Stancu should be ashamed of themselves. El Kabir would later remove the tweet from his favorites. Various publications in Europe, from Dutch publications to English papers, picked up on the video and were quick to ask whether the fix was in or not.
With the widespread accusations of the match being fixed, Genclerbirligi went into pseudo-damage control mode. Club chairman Ilhan Cavcav put a gag order on the club’s players to stop them from speaking with the media after the game was over. Cavcav mentioned to Turkish newspaper Haberturk that Kaplan “could’ve reached out better” for the ball and that Kaplan “is an honest goalkeeper and has character”. However, earlier in the day on a sports program, Cavcav mentioned that if his team couldn’t be champions, Galatasaray should be champions. With these words from Cavcav, many people were quick to accuse him that he intentionally had his team “throw” the match. In an era post-2011 match fixing case, every word coming out of the mouths of various soccer officials gets scrutinized. Cavcav would later say his words were taken out of context, but he had admitted before that he was a fan of Galatasaray growing up and was a fan of that club currently.
Much of the world, at least on the Internet, started questioning the legitimacy of Galatasaray’s win over Genclerbirligi once the word spread over social media. However, some who have followed the league closely over the last couple of months have started to question some of the results Galatasaray have gotten compared to their rivals. One particular point of discussion is the play of certain teams from Anatolia going up against the Istanbul big 3. The accusations are that these Anatolian teams tend to play their usual game against Besiktas and Fenerbahce, while not trying so hard against Galatasaray. Others have made accusations that the Turkish Football Federation and the referees have been “protecting” Galatasaray, and point out that no Galatasaray player has seen a red card this season as evidence of this. One example that is immediately pointed out is the antics of Galatasaray midfielder Felipe Melo. In last week’s match, there were two instances of Melo’s cleat making contact with the opposing players’ feet that could have warranted a direct red card.
Perhaps the most obvious questioning of legitimacy of a Galatasaray win, before this past weekend, was back in March in week 25 when Galatasaray beat Kasimpasa 3-2. While a comeback from a 2-0 halftime deficit is always possible regardless of any league, some have questioned the legitimacy of how it was done. The first point of debate was the half time break for this game, as the halftime period was 25 minutes instead of the usual fifteen. In the laws of the game, only the referee can extend the halftime break as he sees fit. But there has never been an explanation as to why the half time break was extended. When Galatasaray scored two goals to tie the match, both goals came from attacks from the left flank. The Kasimpasa defender covering that flank was Veysel Sari, a right back who was transferred to Kasimpasa from Galatasaray late last summer. When Sari was substituted in the 87th minute, Sari left to a barrage of boos. Kasimpasa fans immediately accused him of fixing the match for Galatasaray. Fans of Galatasaray’s rivals also accused him via social media of intentionally allowing the attacks that led to Galatasaray two goals early on in the second half. The goals came in the 52nd and 55th minute respectively. Coincidentally at that substitution, Galatasaray club official Abdurrahim Albayrak started to feel under the weather and had to be seen by a team doctor. Social media in Turkey, however, posted pictures of Albayrak looking fine the following day, leading to suspicions that he may have been involved in a fix during the game. These allegations were quickly forgotten.
For Galatasaray, winning the title and the group stage berth into the UEFA Champions League that comes along with it isn’t a requirement. It’s a necessity. The club has a total debt of around or a little over 800 million Turkish lira ($308 million) according to recent reports. Granted, Besiktas have been reported to have more total debt, but they have the ready excuse that they are currently rebuilding Inonu Stadium with their own funds, and their debt should decrease after the stadium construction concludes and the new ground opens. Galatasaray’s stadium was built with taxpayer dollars. And speaking of taxes, Galatasaray also owes around 140 million Turkish lira ($54 million) in back taxes.
Should Galatasaray not qualify for the Champions League, it could spell financial disaster. Galatasaray is also under a UEFA Financial Fair Play settlement, which will last until the end of next season. It’s quite possible that they will not be able to uphold the terms of the settlement, thereby subjecting them to various sanctions from UEFA.
Going back to the Galatasaray-Genclerbirligi match, the accusations have provided a dark cloud over Turkish soccer. Granted, the 2011 match fixing case provided another dark cloud, but all the decisions from a sporting standpoint have been rendered. In terms of the legalities, the suspects who were initially found guilty in the now abolished “special authority courts” are now being retried due to abrogation of due process.
The match itself fed into the thoughts of some fans that the season has been set up for Galatasaray to be champions. In an age where every play is scrutinized, rightly or wrongly, due to the effects of the 2011 match fixing case, the suspicious play surrounding this match does nothing to change the minds of those who believe that match fixing is still prevalent in Turkish soccer. In fact, those people who believe that seem to think that some clubs are allowed to bend the rules, while others play by the rules yet get accused of breaking them.
When the match fixing case broke out in the summer of 2011, people were demanding that the Turkish Football Federation “clean up” soccer in the country. Because of the controversy surrounding the Galatasaray-Genclerbirligi match, the question now being asked is whether the TFF wants to clean up the game. In a season named after one of Turkish football’s most respected club officials in recent memory, his most famous quote may be in the spotlight once again. It may have more relevance today than it did when he first said it years ago.
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