Ben Lyttleton looks at the corruption scandal rocking Turkish football
Turkey’s national coach Ersun Yanal has been forced to deny allegations that he received illegal payments for fixing matches when he was Ankaragucu coach four years ago. Yanal claimed the accusations against him, made by former Ankaragucu player Cafer Aydin, were part of a plot to oust him from his current post. Yanal is under fire for poor results since replacing Senol Gunes as Turkey coach. The side that finished third in the last World Cup are looking unlikely to qualify for the 2006 tournament: they are currently fourth in Group Two, eight points behind leaders Ukraine. “It is very clear that this has been done for certain purposes,” said Yanal. “I have never been involved in any such dealings.”
Star TV had aired an interview with Aydin claiming that he once received $10,000 (£5,200) in payment and that Yanal not only knew about this, but distributed the money and kept some of it for himself. Aydin, a former Under-21 international with a reputation as a troublemaker, has since been fined by his club Vestel Manisaspor for breaking a press boycott and suspended for “unacceptable behaviour”. He responded with a threat to sue Star TV for cutting the interview to make it look like he was talking about an illegal payment, when in fact he was referring to a legal win bonus.
But the allegations are being taken seriously in Turkey, where a parliamentary committee has been set up to interview referees, players and officials involved in Anakaragucu games from that period. Even one of the caterers at Anakaragucu was interrogated. Only former director Levent Dogan has been publicly quoted as saying he knew illegal payments were being made – though, like Aydin, he has insisted he was misquoted and denied all knowledge of any wrongdoing.
The Turkish FA’s legal committee conducted their own investigation, found no impropriety and have forwarded their dossier onto the parliamentary committee. The press have pointed out that it helps the FA to have found nothing, as they could not take action in any case because the time limit for sanctions has expired.
Other accusations have surfaced against Yanal since the original story broke: it has also been alleged that Ankaragucu defrauded the tax office by presenting payslips giving salary figures far below what Yanal was really being paid. In response, the finance ministry is reported to have ordered a full audit of Ankaragucu’s tax records.
Some newspapers have claimed that Yanal tried to fix a second-division game against Alanyaspor when he was a Nazillispor player in 1986. Former Nazillispor goalkeeper Nedim Sisko (whose surname means “Fatso” in Turkish, ideal for a goalkeeper) claimed he was approached by a group of unidentified men who said they were working with other players – including Yanal – before offering him money to concede goals. Nazillispor won the game 2-1. But one paper rubbished that claim and printed a statement from the club’s captain at the time saying that Yanal was away on military service when this incident was meant to have happened.
Yanal’s only public comment on the furore has been his two-line denial. He is expected to go into greater detail when questioned by the head of the Turkish parliament’s sports violence, match-fixing and doping investigation committee.
It is hardly the ideal build-up for Turkey’s World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Georgia later this month, but if Yanal’s side fail to get maximum points from those two games, the smear campaign will continue and the coach will come under even more pressure.
From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month