ISTANBUL — 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 rigging 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."
Turkish football has been plagued by a match-fixing scandal involving more than a dozen games last season.
League champion Fenerbahce's chairman 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.
Blatter added: "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.
Fenerbahce's Yidirim, 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.
He faces a maximum of 72 years in prison if found guilty. 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, the governing body for European football, 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 only on goal difference. Officials with Trabzonspor, which replaced Fenerbahce in the Champions League, have also been implicated.
The Turkish indictment accused some suspects of bribing rival team's players to play badly, or not play at all, and coercing referees to make favorable decisions.