Turkish gendarme soldiers stand in front of supporters of Fenerbahce soccer club during the first hearing in trial of 93 suspects accused of match-fixing
Supporters of Fenerbahce soccer club shout slogans during the first hearing in a trial of 93 suspects accused of match-fixing
Trial has begun in an Istanbul court for those charged in connection with a massive football match-fixing scandal -- a case that involves some of the country's biggest clubs and officials.
Thousands of supporters of the Istanbul soccer club Fenerbahce protested outside the courthouse in support of club officials whose are being tried on charges of match fixing. One supporter expressed his commitment to his club.
He says we are waiting till the end, God willing we will be all found innocent, but we should know whether we are guilty or not.
Fenerbahce is one of the most popular clubs in the country and is at the center of one of the world's biggest match-fixing scandals.
Its president Aziz Yildirim is among the 92 suspects charged. Several other leading Turkish clubs are also implicated. Europe's football controlling body UEFA removed Fenerbahce from Europe's premier club competition, the European Champion's League, over the match-fixing allegations.
The investigation started nine months ago, after police suspected at least 19 first- and second-division games were fixed in the 2010 to 2011 season, which Fenerbahce won.
Within weeks of the investigation nationwide arrests were made. Among those detained include nearly a dozen former and current club managers. Sports journalist Simsek Fistikoglu, of Haberturk newspaper, says it is nothing short of a disaster for Turkey and football.
"It is the 9/11 of Turkish football I believe, because the number of people is really big and the names really important, very important," he said. "It is the Fenerbahce club we are talking about, Sivarspor, Trabzonspor, Besiktas, these all very important and old clubs of Turkish football. Yes, it is a surprise, but we all assumed that was something wrong with Turkish football, so it is a surprise, quite expected surprise."
The investigation became possible after the government introduced legislation making match fixing a serious criminal offense, categorizing it under organized crime. The prosecutors are demanding jail terms as high 147 years for the Fenerbahce club president.
The president of the country's football federation and two deputies resigned last month, after failing to agree on sanctions against any clubs convicted in the trial.
Both the European and World football bodies, UEFA and FIFA, are closely monitoring the trial and demanding the stiffest penalties for any club found to be involved in match fixing.