Turkey's prime minister, who is tied to Istanbul's Fenerbahce football club defended a decision by the country's football federation to clear his club and 15 others of all charges of involvement in an alleged match-fixing scandal.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a member of Fenerbahce's general assembly and a former football player said that the federation's decision earlier this week to punish some players and officials but none of the clubs, was appropriate.
"Real persons must be punished and not legal entities because if you punish a legal entity, you also punish millions of fans who set their hearts on them," Erdogan told reporters at a news conference late Tuesday.
Sadri Sener, president of Trabzonspor club and some federation officials, however, have expressed concern over the federation's failure to sanction the clubs amid widespread allegations of wrongdoing.
The match fixing scandal debate in Turkey is largely muted as the country bids to host football's 2020 European Championship and ahead of this weekend's title decider between Istanbul rivals, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray.
A total of 93 officials, players and coaches, including the president of defending champion Fenerbahce, are on trial, accused of helping fix matches last season. The federation's decision Monday to clear all 16 clubs of involvement could affect the course of the trial, which was relying in part on the federation's guidance.
It was not clear if the federation's decision would satisfy European soccer's governing body, UEFA, which had said it would intervene if the Turkish federation's disciplinary body fails to take any action before a June 1 deadline to register clubs for European competitions.
Fenerbahce was barred from this season's Champions League as a result of the investigation and its president, Aziz Yildirim, remains in prison.
"As a Turk, I'm very ashamed to say this, but only UEFA can clear us," Yusuf Reha Alp, a member of the federation's disciplinary body told Kanalturk television during a popular sports show on Monday night. "Turkish football's future is very dark," he also said.
The federation banned striker Ibrahim Akin of Istanbul's Buyuksehir Belediyesi for three years for allegedly fixing the result of a match his side lost 0-2 to Fenerbahce in May. Another player, Serdar Kulbilge of Genclerbirligi was banned for two years for his alleged efforts to fix the result of a game that Fenerbahce won 4-2.
Eight other people, including three Fenerbahce officials, were banned from clubs' administrative bodies and are barred from entering stadiums to attend matches.