Turkish football chief causes scandal as he seeks to become a betting baron
By any standard, Yildirim Demiroren is doing well for himself.
Chairman of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), he is also the owner of the largest media group in Turkey, with three best-selling newspapers and a sports daily.
Now, he’s become a betting baron too.
In a move that has raised many eyebrows in Turkey, Demiroren is set to run the only legal sports betting business in the country, Iddaa.
And the lucrative convergence of interests has not gone unnoticed.
“Where on Earth is the head of football federation the same person who owns the football betting company?” asked Ivo Molinas, a Turkish journalist, on Twitter.
Though the bid to run Iddaa by Sans Girisim - a venture led by Demiroren Holding, which is part-owned by Yildirim - and US company Scientific Games has not yet been accepted by government agency Sport Toto, it is the largest and is widely expected to be declared victorious next week.
That would give Demiroren and his partners a 10-year contract to run a gambling venture that generated more than $1.6bn revenue for Sport Toto in 2017 alone, according to the Turkish Court of Accounts.
Elsewhere, it has been speculated that the turnover rose to $3.5bn in 2018.
Gonenc Gurkaynak, a prominent lawyer, raised concerns that many people even wouldn’t be able to read the news that Demiroren now runs Turkish football and the country’s betting business.
“They might know but won’t discuss. Because, the newspapers also belong to [Demiroren].” he said on Twitter.
Indeed, the newspapers owned by Demiroren Media Group, the largest media conglomerate in Turkey with three of the top five best-selling newspapers and a popular sports daily, were silent.
The Demiroren Group, which has interests in a wide array of industries, was founded by Yildirim's father Erdogan, who was still its chairman when he died last year aged 80.
Hurriyet, the flagship paper owned by Demiroren, only reported the bidding in a very short story that didn’t even mention the name of the chairman.
Other pro-government media outlets were also mute on the subject. Demiroren, a former head of Istanbul’s Besiktas football team, is considered close to the Turkish government and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Unfortunately there is no law that forbids people with conflict of interests from bidding for these kinds of public tenders. But there is indeed an ethical problem,” said Mert Yasar, a lawyer whose speciality is sports law.
Yasar said the second bidder, Inteltek, a venture between Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell and its subsidiary Intralot, had a clash of interests too, because Turkcell CEO Kaan Terzioglu is one of the football federation’s board members.
Two prominent football and sports commentators reached by Middle East Eye declined to comment on the matter, which is sensitive due to Demiroren’s links to the Turkish government.
Cumhuriyet daily, a fierce critic of the Turkish government, however, chastised the football federation for allowing its chairman to own a betting business.
Many football fans and sports organisations used Twitter to condemn the public tender and call for Demiroren’s resignation, using the Turkish hashtag “GamblerDemirorenResign”.
'It is an absolute scandal for Demiroren to participate in the Iddaa tender'
- Ali Mahir Basarir, MP
Ali Koc, chairman of major Istanbul side Fenerbahce, called on Demiroren to resign from the football federation.
“It would be impossible to continue elsewhere in the world,” he said.
Opposition politicians, too, have voiced displeasure.
“While it is unethical for someone still sitting in the TFF chairmanship to take part in the tender in question, it is clear the position he holds also provides an advantage for his own company,” lawmaker Ali Mahir Basarir from the main opposition CHP said, according to the Reuters news agency.
“It is an absolute scandal for Demiroren to participate in the Iddaa tender.”
There is some speculation in the Turkish media that Demiroren will resign next week. Haberturk TV reported on Thursday that the football chief told his friends he would submit his resignation once Sport Toto formalises its decision.
Haberturk says the decision stems from the fact that TFF’s football disciplinary regulation bans members from directly or indirectly taking part in betting businesses.