Istanbul (AFP) – Turkish football and multi-sports giant Fenerbahce on Sunday elected a scion of one of Turkey’s wealthiest industrial dynasties as its new chairman, ending the two-decade reign of longstanding supremo Aziz Yildirim.
Businessman Ali Koc was elected new Fenerbahce chairman in a landslide ballot win among members, winning 16,092 of their votes compared to just 4,644 for Yildirim.
The change at the top marks a turning point for the Istanbul club, which has been dominated by Yildirim since he became chairman in 1998.
“A historic runaway victory,” said leading newspaper Hurriyet. “A page is closed at Fenerbahce. And a new one is opened,” added sports daily Fanatik.
In a tense congress, held in a special stand erected on the pitch of Fenerbahce’s stadium, both men accused the other of lying and promised to pump investment into the club if elected.
“I congratulate you,” Koc told supporters after his election victory was announced. “I am just the shop window of this success.”
In a message of reconciliation after the tense congress he said: “We have not sworn allegiance to anyone, we have not taken advantage. We have made sure we are worthy of this community.”
Under Yildirim’s leadership, Fenerbahce have won the Turkish football league six times and have on occasion been fearsome opponents in Europe.
Yet recent years have brought thinner pickings, with the side’s last Super Lig championship win in 2014 and this season finishing runners-up to arch rivals Galatasaray.
The men’s and women’s basketball sides have however been all-conquering, with the men crowned Euroleague champions in 2017.
– ‘Shadow of scandal’ –
Yildirim was in 2012 sentenced to six years and three months in prison on charges of match-fixing in a scandal that rocked Turkish football.
But he and his supporters blamed the investigation on supporters of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Turkey accuses of staging the 2016 failed coup, charges Gulen denies.
He served one year of his sentence and in October 2015 was acquitted by an Istanbul court. The ruling still requires approval by Turkey’s supreme court and in this event Fenerbahce are expected to seek massive compensation for the losses caused.
Yildirim was also criticised for big money football signings that did not bear fruit, notably that of Dutch striker Robin van Persie who did not have the expected impact after joining from Manchester United.
Koc’s candidacy represented a rare intervention in Turkish public life by his family, one of the country’s richest but most low-key industrial dynasties.
The third son of former Koc Group chairman Rahmi Koc, Ali Koc has promised to use his business contacts to reinvigorate the club.
His eldest brother Mustafa, the former Koc Group chairman, died in 2016. His other brother Omer currently leads the group.
Forbes magazine this year estimated that family patriarch Rahmi Koc has a fortune of $1.76 billion.
Some commentators have compared the Fenerbahce election to Turkey’s presidential polls on June 24, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking a new term after 15 years in power in the face of a strong challenge from secular opposition candidate Muharrem Ince.
Erdogan has sent a telegram of congratulation to Ali Koc, the presidency said in a statement.
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