Turkey PM: fixers, not clubs, should be punished

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ISTANBUL (AP) -Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a plea for individuals rather than clubs to be punished for match-fixing on Thursday, even as FIFA President Sepp Blatter urged increased vigilance against what he called the "scourge" of rigged matches.

Erdogan spoke to officials from Europe's 53 football nations in Istanbul - the home city of Fenerbahce, whose chairman is suspected of fixing games to help it win the Turkish title last year, and was then barred from entering the Champions League.

Addressing UEFA's annual congress, Erdogan said clubs should not be punished for crimes committed by individuals.

"We have to identify a difference between the individual and the legal entity," Erdogan told representatives of UEFA's 53 member associations. "We should act against individuals who committed the crime. Only they should be given the highest sanctions.

"If a legal entity is punished for the crime of an individual, millions of people would be punished."

In another important step for Turkish football, Erdogan urged UEFA to consider a possible Turkish bid for the 2020 European Championship. Turkey, which is bidding to stage the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul, is also mulling the possibility of bidding to host Euro 2020.

"I hope that you will keep a 2020 European Championship in Istanbul in the corner of your minds," Erdogan said.

UEFA President Michel Platini said he would back Turkey for the Euro 2020 only if it loses the Olympic bid. The IOC chooses the 2020 host next September, ahead of UEFA's decision.

"Turkey had a strong bid in 2016 and it will be even stronger in 2020," Platini said. "If Istanbul doesn't get the Olympics it will be a strong bid that I will vote for.

"If Turkey has the Olympic Games, then I will not vote for it. It is not possible to have two competitions in the same place just about the same time."

Officials for the Istanbul 2020 Olympics bid said government support for Turkey hosting the games would not be affected by a possible bid for Euro 2020.

"Every level of government and every party is aligned behind this bid: the Olympic and Paralympic Games are seen as a crucial stimulus for Turkey's national development strategy," they said in a statement. "Should Turkey bid for Euro 2020, that level of commitment will remain guaranteed."

The Turkish bid to host Euro 2016 lost out to France. Platini, who is French and was not allowed to vote, had favored his home country's winning campaign.

Platini said he "agreed in principle" with Erdogan on the issue of punishing people and not clubs and suggested UEFA could re-think disciplinary rules on clubs being banned in the future. He said, however, that rules currently in place have to be obeyed.

"On principle, I agree," Platini said. "(But) this is how it is. If there is another way, we'll think about it."

Turkish football has been plagued by a match-fixing scandal involving more than a dozen games last season. The chairman of league champion Fenerbahce, Aziz Yildirim, is among 93 club officials, players and trainers currently on trial over the scandal.

Fenerbahce believes the Turkish Football Federation was pressured by UEFA to deny its entry to Champions League, and is challenging both football bodies at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

However, the Turkish federation has not decided what other action to take against the Istanbul club and other teams implicated.

Blatter said an early warning system was helping monitor suspicious betting while cooperation with Interpol was also helping curb match-fixing.

"Are we responsible for all the evils in our world? No, but we must see to it that we stay alert," Blatter said. "We are working together ... against this scourge which is match-fixing."

UEFA is also pressing Turkey to take actions against the clubs.

"The fight against match-fixing is an absolute priority for UEFA," said Gianni Infantino, the organization's secretary general.

He later said that UEFA would intervene if the Turkish federation does not take any action by the time teams have to register for European competitions.

Yildirim, named the No. 2 defendant in the trial, is accused of match-fixing and establishing a crime ring, according to the indictment, which includes records of wiretapped conversations between the suspects who allegedly exchanged encoded messages.

Prosecutors accuse Yildirim of attempting to manipulate 13 league games, mostly in the second half of the season, to edge Fenerbahce past then-leader Trabzonspor in the league standings. Yildirim denies any wrongdoing.

In January, the head of the Turkish Football Federation resigned following controversy over how to deal with the clubs implicated in the alleged match-fixing scheme.

Match-fixing scandals last year tarnished leagues in Turkey, Italy, Israel, Finland and Greece even though UEFA spent millions to monitor betting and investigate cases in which players and referees were allegedly bribed.

Fenerbahce went unbeaten through the second half of the season and beat Trabzonspor to the title on goal difference. Officials with Trabzonspor, which replaced Fenerbahce in the Champions League, have also been implicated.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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