Using Karl Marx to Reach an Understanding of the Relationship between Labor and Industrial Football

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Author’s Note: Parts of this post were written as an assignment for a graduate seminar in Classical Sociological Theory.

 On 14 September 2016 the Sporting Director of German side Borussia Monchengladbach, Max Eberl, did something football fans everywhere can be proud of. He—if only for a moment—stood up to the rat-race routine of modern life and all of its rationalizing influence that forces humans all over the world to make work the focal point of modern life, as if that I why we are on this earth. After the Manchester City-Borussia Monchengladbach Champions League tie got postponed and pushed forward one day later due to a deluge in Manchester, Mr. Eberl took action. Recognizing that many ‘Gladbach’ fans would stay to support their side through thick and thin, he left a note for the 1500 away fans on their seats excusing them for missing the work they may miss the next day due to attending the re-arranged match.


Borussia Monchengladbach’s Fans Are Passionate to Say the Least. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/football/545608/Borussia-Monchengladbach-letter-sack-Man-City-game

The note reads:

Unfortunately, your employee (name) cannot appear at work on this Thursday as he is in Manchester to fulfil the important duty to support (Monchengladbach).

We thank you being his boss for accepting his apology to stay away for one day.

We regret whatever inconvenience this may have for your company, but, at the same time, hope for your understanding.

With kind regards from Manchester, Max Eberl.


Mr. Ebrl’s Note. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.101greatgoals.com/news/gladbach-leave-awesome-letter-seats-away-fans-man-city-tonight-picture/

Personally, I believe this is one of the warmest developments in world football I have seen in the last few years. The fact that it happened in the UEFA Champions League—the “rich man’s club” of world football, so to speak—makes it all the more interesting, especially seeing as how the competition has consistently worked to favor the rich clubs. Mr. Eberl’s human request to employers shows just how much of a hold the economic system we live in has on us; it also shows us how—even in the age of industrial football—there are still a few unique individuals left in world football.

We can relate the concepts of labor and industrial football to one another by using some of Karl Marx’s writing as a guide. Marx explains in “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” that:

In estranging from man (1) nature, and (2) himself, his own active functions, his life activity, estranged labour estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form (Marx and Engels 1975, 90).

This focus on the individual (through the importance of labor as it becomes the sole purpose of the species) meant that workers are becoming alienated, or estranged, from themselves and one another. When the sport of football first became popular in England in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was mainly as a form of leisure for the working classes. Sport also gave the working classes a sense of community; the teams workers played for or supported offered a new kind of collective identity that was able to bring people together.

As sport has become commercialized, many fans have objected to a system where the fans are viewed not as individuals but as “consumers”; the fan has become “estranged”, to use Marx’s term, from the experience of being a spectator. Fans are expected to hand over increasing amounts of money to watch their teams’ games, spending more and more of what they have earned (through production) at their jobs in order to view what had once been relatively inexpensive. Since soccer is such a popular sport all over the world, pay-TV channels have sprung up in most of the industrial world that televise live games. This, of course, requires a subscription in addition to a normal cable (or similar product) subscription; the game itself is never free. Even if one wants to watch a televised match outside of the home, they would have to go to a restaurant or bar which will also charge money in exchange for offering the game.

This commodification of the game also reflects the “race to the bottom” aspects of capitalism that Marx touches on in “Wage-Labour and Capital”. As the mode of production and means of production continually are transformed and revolutionized, the relative value of the worker decreases and profits increase. In order to keep up, capitalists are engaged in a system of competition with one another. The system of “industrial football” is no different. As teams commodify the fan experience more and more, they are able to make more and more money which translates to higher rates of success on the field. The building of newer, more comfortable, and more modern stadia means that higher prices can be charged for tickets, which in turn pushes out the lower classes and brings in the middle and upper classes; changing the demographic of fans means attracting more affluent fans at the expense of less affluent fans. These more affluent fans, in turn, have more disposable income to spend on concessions and gear in the stadium and may be more likely to pay for the ability to watch games at home that they cannot see in person. And teams that increase their revenue in this manner can afford to buy better players, which makes them more successful on the field, retaining the current fans and attracting newer fans.

This is one reason why I believe that, over the last fifteen to twenty years of European soccer, the most successful teams have come from the main industrialized countries of Western Europe. Teams from regions like Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Scandinavia—which have retained a more amateur spirit and not “modernized” the economy of the game to the extent that those in Western Europe have—tend to not be as successful. Being located somewhat on the sidelines of the “game” of capitalist development in sport has put teams from these areas at a disadvantage compared to those from the centers of Western and Central Europe.

In light of this short discussion I believe that Borussia Monchengladbach—and Mr. Ebrl particularly—should be commended for offering spectators another side of Industrial football. The fan is not just a source of income, spending their hard earned money on their team. Rather, they are human beings who are trying to find some sort of an escape from their work in the stadium. They should not be punished for having interests outside of work, and we can only hope that other teams can start recognizing that their fans are individual people, not just pocketbooks to be exploited.

FIFA’s Decision to Disband Anti-Racism Task Force Exemplifies Modern Approach to Confronting Racism

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On 25 September 2016 some bizarre news came out of FIFA. Apparently, the much maligned (and for good reason) governing body of world football decided to disband its anti-racism task force focused on racist elements in Russia ahead of the 2018 World Cup. ESPN FC reported that, “FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has ‘completely fulfilled its temporary mission’ and ‘is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation’. (emphasis added). The fact that FIFA could say that its mission was “completely” fulfilled is absurd, and The Guardian’s Archie Bland gives us a good number of reasons why. Mr. Bland rightly notes that racist displays by Russian fans are actually increasing, with 92 racist incidents in the 2014-2015 season compared to 83 over the previous two seasons! In fact, as recently as 28 September 2016 a banana was thrown on a Russian pitch, with the incident coming during a Champions League match between FC Rostov and PSV Eindhoven.


FIFA Talk a Good Game, But Fall Short Where It Matters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfc.us/blog/fifa/243/post/2959297/fifa-disbands-anti-racism-task-force-ahead-of-2018-russia-world-cup

It is not a secret that racism is an issue in Russian football, and the website Futbolgrad gives an amazing profile of its history. Interestingly, it is not just racial differences that provoke fans, but it is also different interpretations of what it means to be “Russian”. One Spartak fan reflecting on a 1999 away match in the Caucasus is quoted as saying:

People were fine until we started chanting “Only Russia!” and “Russians, forward!”. Fuck, then all hell broke loose! Everyone got up, started pointing fingers at us, threatening to knife every single one of us! They were like, we’re from Vladikavkaz, we’re also Russian and we live in Russia. Well, what can we do, if these people don’t understand the difference between russkiye [ethnic Russians] and rossiyane [Russian citizens]?

Here it is a tension between ethnic and civic definitions of nationalism that is playing itself out on the terraces of Russian stadia. Such tensions are also visible in Turkish stadiums (between Kurds and Turks) and this is why it is important to realize that racism in sport is not just a Russian problem, nor is it just a football problem.



Roberto Carlos Was Taunted By a Banana In Russia. Images Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2007642/Shame-Russian-football-racist-fans-throw-bananas-Brazilian-superstar-Roberto-Carlos.html

In responding to FIFA’s incomprehensible decision, former Welsh footballer Nathan Blake says something that I have argued in the past—racism is a global problem stemming from global issues. In order to fight it, then, we must recognize its global nature while also realizing that, as Mr. Blake says, “It’s down to people and individuals and a way of thought”; the individual is part of a collective and without realizing this we can get nowhere.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s “taskforce” is a classic example of how, too often, people do lip service to solving racial problems without confronting the fact that it is engrained in some individuals and their wider societies. FIFA’s pathetic attempt to solve racism in football—without ever having a single meeting about it, of course—is just an attempt to throw the issue a bone. Its almost like they said “Hey, this is an important issue that really affects both footballers and fans negatively, so let’s publicize how we are addressing it. Then, when we say we have ‘solved’ it, everyone will be happy and we will look like we did something positive and get good publicity. It’s a win win!”. Unfortunately, FIFA apparently never heard the adage “if something’s too good to be true…it usually isn’t”.

For me, FIFA’s (rather large) pat on their collective back is no different than the individual who says things like “I listen to hip-hop music, I’m not racist” or “I go to Mexican restaurants all the time, I’m not racist” and then pats themselves on the back and continues on with their day. In this case it was “Look, I ran an anti-racism taskforce, so I’m solving racism”. Such self-congratulatory behavior actually has the reverse effect of what it originally desired; instead of lessening racism it in actuality perpetuates it because too often such behavior results in a reverse kind of racism by putting such an emphasis on racial differences. As I have argued before, this does nothing but perpetuate divides within society. The right thing to do is treat people well regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation (and any other difference I may have forgotten, lest I offend) and no one should expect to be congratulated for doing the right thing. Unfortunately people are often too busy putting on the façade of “openness” and “progressiveness” to realize what is happening.

If FIFA did not have the intention to seriously and constructively confront racism in football, and instead wanted to “look good”, then they should not have wasted their time. As football fans, it is our individual responsibility to not engage in racist behavior in stadiums and condemn it when it happens. If we can do that, we will be much more successful than FIFA ever could have been in getting racism out of football.

Human Trafficking And Globalization: Not Just a Girl Problem, but a Global Problem in Football Too

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Stories of human trafficking are gut wrenching. The hopelessness. The poverty. The desire to escape somewhere, anywhere, other than where you are. And desperate times call for desperate measures, which leads people to trust anyone, believe anything, just for a chance at an out. Globalization, which has advanced hand in hand with modern capitalism, has offered the world a degree of interconnectedness unimaginable a century ago. You can Skype or Facetime from Boston to Beijing without any extra effort, you can sip the same Starbuck’s coffee in Stockholm while sitting on the same couches you would in Seattle, and you can get from Adelaide to Zurich and anywhere in between on an airplane at a moment’s notice. For many, these are the positive aspects of globalization. Unfortunately, people sometimes ignore the fact that to enjoy these “positives” there are certain prerequisites: you must own a computer or an iPhone to use the technology that facilitates global communication, you must have the disposable income to sip a coffee at Starbuck’s instead of at home, and you need to have the time (not to mention wealth) to afford an airplane ticket. In short, you need to have money and the truth is that not everyone has it. Globalization is built on the premise of enjoying things that require money; the flip side of this is that globalization can have devastating consequences for those on the outside looking in: those who are not wealthy.

Those who are not wealthy look to use the interconnectedness created by globalization to their advantage, at least as best that they can. Often times this comes in the form of economic migration (something that—as Brexit has shown—elicits a strong backlash) but other times this can come in other forms. Human trafficking is one of those other forms. Often it is a wealthy individual who offers a poorer individual a “way out” by using one of the channels of globalization: travel. The most publicized of this type of human trafficking comes in the form of sex trafficking. Poor regions in eastern Europe are especially vulnerable to it; in countries like Moldova—where the average income is less than 2,000 USD annually—sometimes all people have to sell is their body, whether for sex or for kidneys. Al Jazeera’s project on sex trafficking in Romania is particularly enlightening since it highlights not just the hopeless desperation many young girls feel, but also as the attitude of the traffickers themselves, who see themselves as helping the young girls by offering them a way out.


The Poverty in Some Regions of Romania Can Be Unbearable. Image Courtesy Of: http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/08/sex-trafficking-in-romania/index.html


It is true that sad stories like this exist around the world and not just in Eastern Europe, and one common thread of international human trafficking is that it affects a disproportionately large number of women. A 2014 European Union report cited by the BBC explains that in the three years leading up to 2013, 30,146 people were registered as victims of human trafficking across the bloc. 80 per cent of the victims were women, and 69 per cent were victims of “sexual exploitation”. The fact that, tellingly, only 8,551 people were prosecuted for human trafficking and that there were just 3,786 convictions—which is only around ten per cent of the number of victims—tells us that this is a global issue. While the high rates of female victimization are certainly alarming, I will bring in an example from the football world to show that human trafficking does not discriminate according to gender or race; it is a global problem in the globalized age.

Many living in global West during the modern era may believe that the slave trade is over. Africans are no longer being put on boats and shipped overseas to become slave labor driving Western agricultural production—that’s true. But Africans are certainly being put on airplanes (often by fellow Africans) and are flown to the West in order to—they hope—play a role in driving Western cultural production. This cultural production is the sport of football. Didier Drogba. George Weah. These are the African stars of world football that every young footballer hopes to emulate one day, escaping Africa for a footballing career in Europe. But for every one of them, there are hundreds of young men like Musa, emigrating from Nigeria to (in his case) Turkey for a chance at football greatness. Comparatively, Musa might be one of the lucky ones.


Didier Drogba Is One In a Million; Not Everyone Gets A Chance To Shine Under The Lights Of European Nights. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/chelsea/11635116/Chelsea-transfer-news-and-rumours-Didier-Drogba-wanted-by-Marseille.html


A 2015 Al Jazeera piece explains that “up to 15,000 young African footballers are taken abroad annually under false hopes [of finding a team] – over a third of them head to Europe. Many end up stranded in Europe, Asia, North America or the Middle East as they cannot afford to return or are too ashamed to do so”. The figure of 15,000 annually sounds like a large number, considering the number of 30,146 registered as victims of human trafficking over three years, but we need to remember that many of these African footballers may not consider themselves to have been trafficked, since the process is based on deception. Sports Agent Aby Emenike explains that “fake agents usually manage to extort sums between $300 and $3,000 for processing paperwork, paying for travel expenses, passports and visas”. The players—all too often blinded by their desperation for an opportunity—do not question them.

A case presented on Futbolgrad shows how the process plays itself out in the politically and sportingly marginal area of post-Soviet central Asia. The story is Olawale Sunday’s, a Nigerian who—in 2014—found himself struggling to make a name for himself in football in one of the world’s unlikeliest destinations: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. By Mr. Sunday’s own admission, however, it is “a lot better than Dushanbe” (a city for which I have a soft spot, but nonetheless I understand Mr. Sunday). In 2013 the footballer left Nigeria after paying “USD$3350 to a rogue agent who had promised him a trial with an unnamed club in Russia”. The rest of the story, as related by David McArdle, is worth quoting at length:

Accompanied by a group of similar recruits, they [Sunday and other hopefuls] arrived in Dubai and were each given one-way tickets to Dushanbe, where they were then met by a Ghanaian merchant-of-sorts: ‘Charles [the Ghanaian] met us off the plane and told us we would play for Lokomotiv Dushanbe’, a side with little in common with their Muscovite namesake, Wale elaborates. The unusual composition of a Ghanaian in Tajikistan was never thoroughly explained although his role in assuring the young players upon reaching Dushanbe, with hindsight, reads crucial in the de facto abandoning process: ‘Charles married a Tajik girl so he is stuck there forever’, Wale reveals as if discussing a lengthy period of incarceration. ‘He uses players as slaves’, Wale pronounces suddenly.

The last sentence in Mr. Sunday’s testimony is key, the trafficked footballers are treated as slaves. While Mr. Sunday has since left for (slightly?) greener pastures (after an adventure with the kind of post-Soviet bureaucracy I have had experience with) in Kyrgyzstan, the fact remains that there are many others in still worse positions.


Mr. Sunday Navigates Central Asia Off The Pitch. Image Courtesy of: http://futbolgrad.com/football-slave-naive-willing-migrant-selling-dreams-along-silk-road/#more


Playthegame.org tells a story that is not so different than that of the young Eastern European girls who have fallen victim to sex traffickers:

The trade of under-age African footballers is primarily a phenomenon that plays on distressed families’ hopes for a way out of poverty. The fake agents make unknowing parents spend all their savings on their son’s flight to Europe, but in the end, the boy might only get a single trial at a European club – or perhaps none at all – and is left on his own in an unknown world far away from family and without a safety net.

In Moldova, we see the same root cause: “All of these forms of human trafficking are running so incredibly rampant in Moldova primarily because of one thing. Poverty.”

Jean-Claude Mbouvin, founder and director of Foot Solidaire, an organization raising awareness of the trafficking of young African footballers, explains that “Today, there are fake football agents who only use football to make money. They make fake contracts, lure young African players to come to Europe under illegal conditions, and then they just leave them”. As Mr. Mbouvin reminds us, for the players “it is an opportunity for the young kids to get a chance to get out of poverty”.

Contrast this with the story of girls in Romania who fall victim to sex traffickers:

Most girls remain unaware of the real fate that awaits girls who follow the often familiar faces of men known as lover boys. The lover boy method is the technique most often used to recruit girls. A trafficker purports to fall in love with a vulnerable girl, offering romance, nice dinners, gifts and the promise of a fairy tale life far away. The lover boy then claims to fall on hard times and persuades the girl to sell herself just to help make ends meet for a short time. Once the girls are swayed into selling their bodies, manipulated into feeling obligated to repay the lovely meals and gifts, they are often too ashamed to return home, fearing they will no longer be accepted.

The African footballers fall victim to the trafficker’s ruse because of a love of football while the young Romanian girls fall victim to the trafficker’s ruse because of love itself. Both cases represent internal exploitations; Africans exploiting Africans on the one hand and Romanians exploiting Romanians on the other. In both cases bodies are being exploited; in one case it is in the name of sport and in the other it is in the name of sex. In both cases no one can go back; they will both be shamed by their respective communities due to their perceived “failures”. And both root causes are the same: A hopeless despair caused by extreme poverty.


Some Are Trafficked To Perform On The Pitch…                                                                                                             Image Courtesy Of: http://futbolgrad.com/football-slave-naive-willing-migrant-selling-dreams-along-silk-road/#more



And Some Are Trafficked to Perform In The Clubs…But It’s The Same Sad Result.                                              Image Courtesy Of: http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/08/sex-trafficking-in-romania/index.html


These two cases—although seemingly unrelated—actually represent two sides of the same coin. Human trafficking is not just an issue that females face; men face this evil as well but in different forms. The debate surrounding human trafficking, therefore, represents yet another one where divisions—in this case along the lines of gender—should not be created. Such divisions cannot help us solve the root cause of poverty which, after all, knows no race or gender. Unfortunately, it is a by-product of the modern society, simultaneously connected and disconnected, that we live in today.

Strange Bedfellows: Hitman or Club President? The Most Recent Example of Football’s Relationship With Politics in Turkey

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As someone who follows the relationship between Turkish sports and Turkish politics I’ve seen a lot, but this latest story is pretty bizarre to say the least. It has all the makings of a (maybe B-) murder mystery: The “playboy” football club president/drug lord, the rebel/dissident/coyote, the spies from an international intelligence agency, and a deadly shootout on the streets of north London. I would certainly have made for interesting reading—perhaps even a foreign film—if the story weren’t completely true, according to documents acquired by The Times that were cited by BBC Turkish.

According to the story released on 27 September 2016, the documents show that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) was behind the shooting of a Kurdish dissident living in North London in 1994. Kurdish dissident Mehmet Kaygisiz was shot in the back of the head while playing backgammon at a café in London’s Newington Green. At the time, Mr. Kaygisiz was apparently on a Turkish government “kill list” due to his links to the Kurdish terrorist group the PKK, as well as his activities in heroin trafficking and acting as a coyote for Kurds illegally entering the UK. According to the BBC’s story the murder was covered up and portrayed as being part of a feud between warring families involved in a twenty-five year turf war that raged in London between different groups within the Turkish and Kurdish mafias involved in drug trafficking (The original story from 1994 is available here). According to British authorities, alleges the BBC citing The Times, it was a perfect cover story: Kurdish groups were involved in drug trafficking in order to fund the PKK’s operations anyway, so the embarrassing story of an extra-judicial killing—perpetrated by one NATO country in the capital of another NATO country—wouldn’t be uncovered for what it was.

The alleged government sponsored hit man in this case is Nurettin Guven, the former president of the Malatyaspor football club. While Mr. Guven has denied involvement with this murder, he himself has had his share of run-ins with the law; according to The Independent he drew “police attention for drugs and weapons offences in mainland Europe and was given a jail sentence in absentia in France”, subsequently he “remained in England for ten years despite French extradition attempts. After a stint in a French jail (7 years to be exact), Guven was released in Turkey, where he is believed to remain”. While some news outlets have been keen to focus on this story either because of its relevance to illegal immigration into Britain or because of the proof it might offer of Turkey’s MIT conducting assassination operations on foreign soil, I will focus on Mr. Guven’s role as president of a football club.


Government Sponsored Hit Man or Playboy Football Boss? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3809576/Turkey-responsible-state-sponsored-murder-London-s-streets-Turkish-heroin-boss-accused-shooting-dissident-cafe.html

An article in Four Four Two details one of the most bizarre stories you will hear in world football. As president of Malatyaspor in July 1988, Mr. Guven pulled off what many believed at the time to be a transfer coup. He had successfully convinced three stars of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup squad, Carlos Roberto Gallo, Eder Alexio de Assis, and Serginho Chulapa, to join Malatyaspor. The analogy Four Four Two uses is that such a transfer, at the time, would be equivalent to the three stars of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup—goalkeeper Marcos, striker Ronaldo, and midfield maestro Ronaldinho—suddenly signing up to play for an average side in central Anatolia. While Malatyaspor had been successful the season before, finishing fourth in the league, there really wasn’t much there (and, arguably, still isn’t—it’s a sleepy town in east-central Turkey).


The Three Brazilians Sign on For Their Anatolian Adventure Along with Mr. Given (Second From Left). Image Courtesy Of: http://fourfourtwo.com.tr/2015/04/19/malatyadaki-brezilyalilar/

Still, because of Mr. Guven’s outlandish claims, his club—and city—were in the spotlight. At the time Turkish clubs could only play with two foreign players but Mr. Guven was confident that he could find a way around it, such was the close relationship between the club president and Turkish political figures. He claimed that the Brazilians were “Turkish anyways”, and that he would even adopt Eder as a son (so as to make him a citizen, of course). His plan was to import cars duty free—in the Brazilians’ names—and sell them in order to recoup some of the transfer fees; he even called for Turkish president at the time Turgut Ozal (who was also from Malatya) to help the team!


Central Anatolia Is Far From Brazil…Image Courtesy Of: http://fourfourtwo.com.tr/2015/04/19/malatyadaki-brezilyalilar/

Eventually this close relationship between Mr. Guven and the political establishment worked—teams were allowed to have three foreign players as long as no more than two were on the field at the same time. Unfortunately for Malatyaspor, however, one of the Brazilians (Eder) had already returned to Brazil. He would never return, while Serginho and Carlos (who conceded 6 goals in a game for the first time in his career while at Malatyaspor) continued their stint in Turkey. It wasn’t what they had expected: They were courted on the shores of the Bosporus in Istanbul, but they ended up in a land-locked provincial town. Serginho was promised 500 million Turkish Liras (About 400 thousand dollars), a Mercedes, and a villa in Istanbul; instead by October he had only just 1.7 million Liras and was staying at a former goalkeeper’s old apartment. Goalkeeper Carlos had also been promised a villa, instead he got a room at the team’s facilities. As Four Four Two notes, however, Carlos stayed on in Turkey for 2 years—for him it wasn’t about the money, it was about upholding the contract he signed. But that is the only bright spot in a gloomy story.

By the beginning of October of 1988 Malatyaspor were mediocre, with nine points from two wins, three draws, and three losses. Mr. Guven resigned from his position as club president and skipped town. His promise of bringing both Maradona and Ruud Gullit to Malatya never materialized, neither did his promise of making Malatyaspor Turkish champions. They would finish the season in 12th place and be relegated at the end of the 1989-1990 season; Mr. Guven—for his part—would end up arrested in France with 29 kilos of heroin and an 18 year prison sentence. Now, in 2016, he is accused of being a hitman in the pay of Turkish intelligence.


Mr. Guven Is Still In the News These Days, Responding to Match-Fixing Accusations Relating Back to His Fateful Presidency. Image Courtesy of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas/status/400900457792430080/photo/1

The story of Malatyaspor’s tumultuous 1988-1989 season is certainly amusing. At the same time, it also is an example of the ills that have tormented Turkish football for years. On the one hand, there is the triangle of government—business—football that has only been reinforced by the growth of industrial football; as sport becomes more and more of a money maker, the government pays more attention to it. On the other hand there is club president Nurettin Guven. He represents the trend of businessmen and political figures who acquire football teams, sometimes in order to cover up illegal doings elsewhere and legitimate their incomes. Most of the time, these people eventually abandon the teams when the going gets tough (please see the example of Fethullah Gulen and Nisantasispor I mentioned earlier or the famous case of Arkan and OFK Beograd. Cases like Mr. Guven’s go to show that both football and politics are closely related to one another and, when large sums of money are involved, the underworld is never far away either.

ISIS Bans Football Shirts: Is it Just an Attack on Capitalism? Or Might it be a Sign of Weakness?

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On 21 September 2016 The Mirror reported that police in Iraq’s ISIS controlled Al-Furat Province forbade people from wearing football shirts made by Adidas and Nike. Wearing shirts from Premier League teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, West Brom, and Sunderland were also banned, along with the national team shirts of England, Germany, and France. Additionally, wearing the Cross of St. George—as well as American, French, and German flags—have all been banned. Violators face 80 lashes in public as punishments, and leaflets regarding the new policy have been distributed in northern Syria. As bizarre as this news sounds, the policies were actually enforced in Iraq’s Mosul according to Iraqi news. Three men were arrested for playing football and given thirty lashes each in a public square, while the ISIS members tore the Messi shirt that one man was wearing. Its certainly an odd coincidence that it was a Messi shirt that was deemed offensive, given Messi’s role as a UNICEF ambassador and the publicity elicited from his decision to send a young Afghan child two signed jerseys in April 2016 . Of course, Messi’s move was not without complications—the young Afghan family had to move because of the attention they got.


MEMRI’s Post of ISIS’ announcement. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1825004/isis-thugs-ban-citizens-wearing-england-football-tops-and-clothes-made-by-sportswear-giants-nike-and-adidas/



Lionel Messi helped young Murtaza but it was more reminiscent of Western aid to the developing world–a small band-aid that could never address the over-arching structural problems. Murtaza’s family ended up having to move following this publicity; meanwhile, Messi’s shirt gets ripped in Iraq. Image Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37350970

ISIS have taken moves against football in the past and therefore this latest development—though absurd—is not surprising. As a commentator from CBS Sports notes, “One could speculate that perhaps ISIS does not one [Sic. Please excuse cbssports.com’s poor editing job; I can only assume they mean “does not want anyone”] anyone indirectly supporting big companies of the western world.” Certainly, this is part of the issue. One element that fostered a climate where ISIS could attract recruits is the failure of Western-style capitalism in the Middle East; petrodollars led to cronyism, and normal citizens did not feel like they were actually benefiting from the economic system. When people feel like the cards are stacked against them economically and socially, it can lead them to joining a group that promises to fight against the system. So certainly the opposition to “Western” consumer culture is an important selling point for ISIS; one need only look at various pictures from the Syrian conflict to see just how many knock off Ronaldo and Messi shirts are being worn to understand their ubiquity. But here is where we get to the second motive for ISIS’ actions. These shirts are not true Adidas or Nike shirts; they are knock offs. Thus I believe that ISIS’ new law is not based only on economic concerns, rather it is based on cultural concerns as well.

After the latest military operations, led by the Turkish army under the name “Operation Euphrates Shield”, it seems that the so-called Islamic State has been put on the back foot. Nothing in the region is certain, of course, but the latest mi challenge to ISIS’ hold on territory in northern Syria is not insignificant. Therefore, there is another way to look at the latest ISIS decrees regarding soccer shirts: the group may be looking to consolidate their rule and have become wary of splits within the movement.

Any football fan knows that the fan identity plays a major role in how an individual sees themselves in the world; football allows for a group identity that transcends the individual. Football also creates an opportunity for a global society to form, one that appeals to all people regardless of nationality, religion, or ethnicity. ISIS’ leadership may be aware of this and are now trying to stamp out identities that compete with their agenda. The simple act of wearing a football shirt, in this case, may not be seen as identification with a particular team (Manchester United or Barcelona, for instance); it may be seen as identification with a particular culture. In this case, it is Western culture (which football represents). This is why, as bizarre as the ban on football shirts may seem, it may in fact represent an attempt at ideological consolidation at a time when wider splits may be appearing within the so-called “Islamic State” as they come under attack.

A Short Discussion on Women in Turkish Society: How Sport Can Mirror Other Developments in the Social World

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On 12 September 2016, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, a woman was assaulted on a public bus in Istanbul for wearing shorts. Hurriyet Daily News reported that “An unidentified man at the back of the bus initially shouted ‘those who wear shorts must die,’ before physically attacking and kicking her in the face and shouting ‘you are a devil.’”  This is, of course, disturbing news for anyone who cares about Turkish society.

The alleged attacker, Abdullah Çakıroğlu, was at first released but—after the uproar it caused in the country—was re-arrested on 19 September on charges of “inciting animosity”. Mr. Çakıroğlu’s testimony in itself is chilling, and tells the story of a deeply divided society:

People can embrace others’ faith but they cannot ignore it. Everything has a proper way. Had she dressed properly, we would not have acted that way. If people wear pants or at least a tracksuit, we would be less aroused […] When I turned my head to the left, I saw a woman opposite of my seat. She wore shorts and was sitting in an obscene way with her legs sideways. She was staring at me with an obtrusive look. I lost myself in an instant. I thought she disregarded the values of our country and society and she did not show respect for herself and the people around her with her clothing style. My spiritual side took over and I kicked her in the face.

With a spiritual side like that, it’s a wonder that French Sociologist Emile Durkheim was able to say that religion could hold society together by fostering a sense of shared values, but that is beside the point. In response to this deplorable assault, the Turkish Justice Ministry introduced a new law on 19 September; “those who commit intentional offences against the physical integrity of another person will be able to be arrested with the ministry’s draft law” and such assaults will carry a penalty of up to two years in prison. While this is a good development (insofar as it will mean punishment for similar attacks in the future), it is important to note that women face maltreatment in many other public realms as well.


The Attacker Is In Custody. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/i-would-be-less-aroused-if-she-had-worn-pants-says-man-who-attacked-woman-for-wearing-shorts-in-istanbul.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104087&NewsCatID=509

A good example of this in the sports world came in December of 2014, when then coach of Osmanlispor Osman Ozkoylu took offense to a journalist at a post-game press conference. After Mr. Ozkoylu complained about refereeing decisions that went against his team, he responded to a female journalist who, apparently, laughed at him. Perhaps unable to stomach the slight—especially coming from a female—Mr. Ozkoylu lost his cool and had to be restrained by security guards as he confronted her. Video of the confrontation can be seen in the earlier link, as well as from a different angle in this Youtube clip. A female anchor for Turkish news channel NTV couldn’t even bring herself to utter the coach’s full name when reporting on the confrontation. The interesting point to note here, above all else, is that Mr. Ozkoylu (at the time) did not seem to find anything wrong with confronting a female in this manner. Of course, Turkish football is no stranger to such controversies. In 2012 we also saw current Elazigspor coach Umit Ozat say—on live television—that “women did not understand football as well as men”. Ironically, Mr. Ozat would hire a female as an assistant coach two years later.


Mr. Ozat and his assistant, Duygu Erdogan. Image Courtesy of: http://www.star.com.tr/spor/umit-ozat-kadinlar-futboldan-anlamaz-demisti-ama-haber-956761/

Interestingly, the connection between women and gender roles regarding sports in the Middle East has garnered attention for the wrong reasons elsewhere as well, where patriarchal values again came to the fore. After it was revealed in 2014 that Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun posed naked for a photoshoot on the ski slopes, it prompted Lebanon’s Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami to call for an investigation into the photos to ensure ‘the protection of Lebanon’s reputation’. Just as Mr. Çakıroğlu found it his responsibility to police a woman’s morals on a bus, and as Mr. Ozkoylu found it his responsibility to respond to a perceived slight by a female journalist, then Mr. Karami found it his responsibility to defend his country’s “reputation”.


Can’t We All Just Get Along? After All, Ms. Chamoun Rocks Lebanese Nationalism Well on the Slopes. Image Courtesy of http://www.aboutleb.com/lebanon-news/228/topless-skier-jackie-chamoun-the-least-of-lebanons

The concept of “honor” and “reputation” can sometimes be closely related to the perceived “normal” gender roles that are supposed to be reflected in society. In all the instances I have mentioned, the individual reactions stem from a tendency to follow the the societal models of gender identity; when it is perceived that they are not being followed it prompts a reaction. The female is supposed to “dress modestly” when in public and certainly not pose for (half) naked pictures, just as the female is not supposed to ridicule the man in public and the female is not supposed to discuss things—like football—that are outside of their typical sphere of knowledge (again, a sphere defined by culture). Ultimately, this represents another way in which developments in the wider social world are sometimes mirrored in the sports world; sports can offer another angle from which we can look at different societies.

Turkey Decides Against Turning Back the Clocks, But What About the UEFA Champions League? The Relationship Between Politics and Culture

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On 7 September 2016 the Turkish cabinet decided to observe Daylight Savings Time (DST) year round, and the clocks will not be turning back on 30 October. I will let the Hurriyet Daily News explain:

Before this newly introduced practice, Turkey was acting in accordance with European countries regarding the practice’s [Daylight Savings Time] beginning and ending dates. The decision means that Turkey will be three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter as well as summer and two hours ahead of continental Europe in winter.

Personally, I have no qualms with this issue since I believe that the United States should follow this practice as well. After all, the days after the time change—in both Autumn and Spring—are often deadly. Time Magazine notes that DST can be dangerous. Time quotes Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington Law Professor who studies DST polices:

More people are active during the evening, including kids, and the additional sunlight that DST provides helps provide drivers with the visibility necessary to see pedestrians. “At 5 pm virtually everyone in society is awake,” he [Mr. Calandrillo] said. “There are far more people asleep at 7 in the morning than at 7 in the evening.”

Time adds that:

Adding an hour of sunlight in the evening year-round would save the lives of more than 170 pedestrians annually, according to a 2004 study in Accident Analysis and Prevention. The lives of nearly 200 vehicle occupants would also theoretically be saved by the change.

Others note that “the Monday following the start of daylight saving time (DST) is a particularly bad one for heart attacks, traffic accidents, workplace injuries and accidental deaths.” In fact, there is a twenty-five percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday after DST starts compared to a normal Monday, while

a researcher from the University of British Columbia who analyzed three years of data on U.S. fatalities reported that accidental deaths of any kind are more likely in the days following a spring forward. Their 1996 analysis showed a 6.5 percent increase, which meant that about 200 more accidental deaths occurred immediately after the start of DST than would typically occur in a given period of the same length.

According to data presented in one article in the Los Angeles Times, staying on DST year-round would mean “195 fewer drivers and passengers and 171 fewer pedestrians would die each year.” Indeed, a New York City news station says “A study analyzing a decade’s worth of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System showed a 17-percent increase in traffic fatalities on the Monday after clocks spring forward”. This is certainly food for thought.

Meanwhile in Turkey (and the ethnically divided island of Cyprus) there have been negative reactions to the decision, which I also understand. Commentator Ismet Berkan notes that (and I must admit he has a point): “In Istanbul, in winter months, the sun will rise around 7:30 a.m. Besides the unpleasantness of waking up in the dark, we may even leave the house in the dark.” No one likes getting up in the dark—after all, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the unpleasantness of joining the rat race—and this is something I can sympathize with. Another issue, that Zulfikar Dogan makes clear in his column for Al-Monitor, is that the decision to make DST permanent might be influenced by a desire to become closer to the Arab states:

Opponents claim there are religious motives behind the decision. Turkey will now be in the same time zone with Saudi Arabia and most Middle Eastern and Islamic countries. Theologians have been constantly bickering over prayer times, Ramadan hours, and the beginning and end of Eid holidays. With the new arrangement, prayer times will be the same as in Mecca and Medina. There were also objections that the real intention of the change is to distance Turkey from Europe. Some critics even said Turkey’s switch to Saudi time might well be a prelude to changing Turkey’s weekend to Fridays instead of Sundays.

Aside from the economic concerns—being on the same time as Europe helps businesses, after all—Mr. Dogan brings up another interesting point: the cultural dimension of sports may be one segment of society that will be most affected:

The decree will really shake up sports schedules. The European football body UEFA starts Champions’ League games at 9:45 p.m. and European League [UEFA Europa League] games at 8 p.m. and 10:05 p.m. With the new hours, Turkish teams will be starting their games at 10:45 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11:05 p.m. local time. Games will end at midnight or in the early hours of the next morning. In major cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, fans won’t be able to return home before 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.

The fact that Turkey’s membership in UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) is in itself rooted in geopolitics (like Israel’s membership in UEFA) makes this development especially interesting. In order to tie Turkey to the West during the Cold War, the country was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on 18 February 1952 and, two years later, it became a member of UEFA after the football governing body was formed in 1954. As is the case with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), another intergovernmental organization, many of the republics of the former Soviet Union joined UEFA immediately after the demise of the USSR. These kinds of international bodies—whether focused on military power (like NATO), or soft power (like UEFA)—help to form the definition of a country and “where it stands”, so to speak, culturally. Is it European, a member of the West? Or is it, instead, an “eastern” and culturally “othered” state? The decision to change Turkey’s time, in many ways, affects this relationship with Europe in the realm of “soft power”.

Whether Turkey’s decision to stay on DST year-round was rooted in science or politics, it is important to realize the role of culture in relation to politics. Since the UEFA Champions League represents an important part of Turkey’s relationship to Europe—allowing Turkish football teams (and by extension, Turkish society) a chance to compete with Europe—distancing the country from the competition may well serve political motives. We shall see what happens in time (pardon the pun), but the important thing to recognize is that culture—and sport is a big part of culture—can often be used as political tool, and the modern nation state is not oblivious to it.

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