ISTANBUL: Prime Minister Recep Erdogan – after brazenly pushing Turkey’s Euro 2020 candidacy in UEFA’s face last month – has taken another significant step into the highly complex world of the country’s football.

Erdogan – a self-professed fan of Fanerbahce, the club in the eve of the matchfixing storm – has defended a decision by the football federation to clear the 2011 champions and 15 other clubs of all charges. Erdogan, a member of Fenerbahçe’s general assembly, approved the TFF decision earlier this week to punish only some players and officials.

The scandal, concerning 22 matches in the top two divisio9ns last seasons as well as basketball, has cast a long and controversial shadow over both Turkey’s Euro 2020 bid but also over the Istanbul 2020 campaign to win host rights to the Olympic Games.

Erdogan, a key figure in attempts to reach a diplomatic resolution as soon as possible, said: “Real persons must be punished and not the institutions because if you punish the institutions, you also punish millions of fans who set their hearts on these institutions.”

Erdogan spoke out ahead of this weekend’s title decider between İstanbul rivals Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray and in the context of an ongoing trial which sees 93 officials, players and coaches, including Fenerbahe president Aziz Yıldırım, accused of helping fix matches last season.

European federation UEFA, which ordered the TFF last year to bar Fenerbahce from entry to the Champions League, has said it could intervene if it is unhappy with the domestic disciplinary process.

Former Fenerbahçe president Ali Şen has said a massive match-fixing investigation has no connection to the Hizmet movement, inspired by the US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

There has been speculation about a relationship between the Hizmet movement and the match-fixing operation, claiming the movement was behind the scam in a complex attempt to gain control of Fenerbahçe.

** An İstanbul prosecutor is demanding a sentence of up to six years for four Fenerbahçe fans accused after violent incidents, including attacks on police, during a hearing in the trial of the match-fixing scandal. The trouble erupted outside the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on March 30 after jailed Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yıldırım was not released. Yıldırım has remained in prison since the match-fixing investigation started last summer.