Turkey’s Failed Coup: The Effects of Blowback on Football

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By now many people have already given their opinions on the 15 July failed coup in Turkey. I have waited for some of the coup’s effects on football to become clear before offering my interpretation of what is, undoubtedly, a complex situation. From the looks of it, it seems not unlikely that the United States had a hand in it in some way. If not directly supporting it then, as Professor Dani Rodrik notes, there may at least have been tacit support from U.S. government circles for the exiled cleric Turkey blames for the coup, Fethullah Gulen. Former CIA officer Graham Fuller’s sickeningly ebullient piece in support of Mr. Gulen is a good example of what this tacit support looks like.

It also seems to go deeper: some conservative outlets, citing Wikileaks documents, show the financial links between U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Gulen movement (Hizmet) (Available here and here). According to USA Today, the Turkish government is now hunting down some of these donors but many of the front companies used to supply donations have since closed down. In addition to the 500,000 to 1,000,000 dollars donated to Hillary Clinton, the Gulen movement has also “funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008” according to a USA Today investigation. U.S. voters, regardless of ideology, should keep Ms. Clinton’s role in this in mind. Any support for military coups in democratic countries is uncalled for and does nothing to save the United States from the cycle of perpetual war it has become embedded in.

The response to the coup by the Turkish government has been heavy handed, prompting many to believe that the actual coup comes now—as the Economist notes “Over 80,000 people have been arrested, sacked or suspended, including soldiers, judges, teachers, policemen, businessmen and even football officials. Nearly 100 journalists have been detained and more than a hundred media outlets shut down…” The real regime change is happening now in daily life as those linked to the coup–along perceived opponents of the state–are being systematically purged. It is a dangerous time and no one knows how it will play out, especially because the “parallel state” that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Mr. Gulen was behind has been deeply embedded in Turkish politics for some time. Way back in 1996 Mr. Gulen was, quite literally, behind the scenes during Tansu Ciller’s leadership; the first female head of state in Turkey’s history could not escape the presence of political Islam (although she denies any involvement with Mr. Gulen).


Mr. Gulen in the background (grey jacket), along with former President Abdullah Gul (L) and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R), during the opening ceremonies of the Bank Asya Bank in 1996. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/573852/Tansu_Ciller_den_Fethullah_Gulen_aciklamasi.html

Background knowledge of U.S. Cold War geopolitics will, however, also tell you that the presence of political Islam in Turkey is a result of U.S. policies. In order to fight the communist threat, the U.S. encouraged political Islam in many countries; the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan meant U.S. support for the Mujahideen which eventually became the Taliban in an epic case of blowback. In Turkey, following the 1980 (successful) military coup which meant to put an end to street fighting between leftists and rightists, mandatory religion classes were reinstated in Turkish schools. Religion was seen as the perfect tool to fight the perceived threat of Godless communism, but it also meant a rebirth of Islam in the popular conscience. Thus, even if the U.S. wasn’t behind the coup directly, it is still—even in the most optimistic of interpretations—another example of U.S. policies creating blowback.

Since Turkey believes that Europe and the US were behind the coup, their slow response to condemning the violence that left almost three hundred people dead has, understandably, irked many in Turkey. Russia has exploited this rift, with President Vladimir Putin swift to show his support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by meeting him on 9 August. The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is being taken to the football pitch as well, with the Russian and Turkish national teams meeting on August 31 for a friendly match to celebrate the recent thaw in relations. And this is where we can start to look on some of the ways the coup attempt—and its aftermath—has affected the Turkish football world.


All the members of the Turkish Football Federation and affiliated committees resigned on 1 August in the wake of the failed coup, pending security checks. The Federation assured that everything would go on as normal during this time, however. Meanwhile, members of the board of one of Turkey’s biggest team, Fenerbahce, discussed the failed coup claiming that their team has been targeted by the “parallel state” in the form of the match fixing scandal that rocked Turkish football in 2011. Following the comments of retired Senior Rear Admiral Semih Cetin, who claimed on CNN Turk that Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim was the first to stand up to the “parallel state” of Fethullah Gulen, the team even made a t-shirt commemorating Mr. Yildirim’s words of warning “What match fixing? The country is slipping away”.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.yenisafak.com/spor/fenerbahceden-darbe-tisortu-2502578

Football fans in other cities also demonstrated their continued relevance as members of civil society when members of Bursaspor’s popular Teksas group protested the former governor of Bursa Province, Şahabettin Harput, who was arrested for his ties to Mr. Gulen.  The Teksas group hold the former governor responsible for cancelling a 2011 match with Besiktas which led to protests and injuries among the Bursaspor fans.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/spor/futbol/bursasporlu-taraftarlar-gozaltindaki-eski-vali-harputu-protesto-etti

The slow fallout from the failed coup has also deeply affected one of Turkey’s other big teams, Galatasaray SK, with Mr. Yildirim calling for an investigation into the team’s links with Mr. Gulen. Former Galatasaray players Arif Erdem, Uğur Tütüneker, and İsmail Demiriz—along with former star Hakan Şükür (A former AKP MP)—have all been fingered as members of the “parallel state” and police have orders to arrest all four. The only issue is that three of the four are currently out of the country (I wonder why?). Mr. Şükür currently lives in the United States, while Mr. Erdem left Turkey overland into Greece on 23 July and Mr. Tütüneker left the country on 7 July to return to Switzerland where he was coaching FC Wil until they cancelled his contract following his arrest warrant. Despite being in the U.S., Turkish police detained Mr. Şükür’s father and confiscated his assets because the family was providing financial support to the Gulen movement, while Mr. Erdem took to social media to affirm his support for Mr. Erdogan’s government and denounce the failed coup even though a video has surfaced of him reading a poem written by Mr. Gulen. Despite Mr. Erdem’s denial of involvement, it seems that he won’t be able to escape the truth: Mr. Erdem, along with other members of Galatasaray’s team at the time (Including Mr. Şükür), gave the money they received from the Turkish national team’s third place finish at the 2002 World Cup to Mr. Gulen.


Mr. Erdem States His Innocence. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/arif-erdemden-darbe-girisimi-aciklamasi-40202513?_sgm_source=40202513&_sgm_campaign=scn_a0046116293a0000&_sgm_action=click


But his photograph (Foreground L) with Mr. Gulen (Foreground R) may be worth more than his words. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/arif-erdemden-darbe-girisimi-aciklamasi-40202513?_sgm_source=40202513&_sgm_campaign=scn_a0046116293a0000&_sgm_action=click


Just as Mr. Gulen’s movement has deeply entrenched itself in the political institutions of the state, it has been revealed that his movement has also tried to do the same in the country’s footballing institutions. Many referee’s observers—including the father of Turkey’s most famous referee Cuneyt Cakir—have been revealed as Gulenists. The fact that referees are so deeply involved is a threat to the integrity of the game in Turkey. Former Galatasaray striker Ümit Karan revealed that he retired from football because of pressures from Gulenists within Turkish football. Mr. Karan claims that the movement is extremely strong in the second and third divisions, which are less visible in the media. Players are bought and sold based on their allegiance to Mr. Gulen, and if one is not in the movement then playing time is hard to come by. As Mr. Karan says, it got to the point where players wouldn’t pass one another the ball due to political allegiances; not only in clubs but on the national team as well.


Umit Karan reveals the underworld of Turkish Football at a rally for democracy. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2016/08/16/umit-karan-feto-futbolculari-kadro-disi-birakiyordu-515384/

Mr. Karan’s claims seem to be supported by a Sabah story regarding Mr. Gulen’s football team. In 1996 the cleric took control of a second division team from one of Istanbul’s poshest districts, Nişantaşıspor. A black and white photograph from the era shows the players facing Mecca during the pregame ceremony. Apparently, the team’s officials fixed matches and had plans to buy star players (such as the aforementioned Mr. Şükür). Of course, when the Gulenists left the team, it lost all backing and quickly fell from the second division; it is now an afterthought mired in the amateur leagues of Istanbul.


The headline, following a 5-1 loss, reads “Cleric Fethullah’s Team Suffers Blow Out”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/spor/futbol/2016/08/10/iste-fetonun-futbol-projesi

Despite the complicated and still fluid situation in Turkey—and Turkish football—following the putsch attempt, it is not all doom and gloom. One of the most interesting developments in recent years was the 11 August decision to lift the ban on away fans for this season’s derbys. Since 2011 away fans have been banned from attending volatile matches, which has taken away from the fan atmosphere that make derbys such fun occasions in other countries. The head of Turkey’s Football Club Association Göksel Gümüşdağ announced that “In order to have the unity and brotherhood that has grown since 15 July be reflected in stadiums we have decided to lift the ban on away fans”. Who knows what the effects of this will be, given that a violent brawl broke out among fellow Antalyaspor fans during 26 August’s Antalyaspor-Alanyaspor match, but it is certainly refreshing that some move has been made to bring the passion of football fans back into the stadium. Lets just hope that fans can act in a mature manner and not turn the derby days into the bloodbaths that we have seen in the past.


The fallout from the 15 July 2016 coup attempt has revealed a lot about the intimate connection between politics and football in Turkey, one that has been ongoing for many years. Mr. Gulen’s brand of Islam has infiltrated Turkish politics—perhaps with the aid of the United States—for many years before now. It is slowly being revealed that Mr. Gulen’s movement has tried—for years—to also infiltrate all realms of Turkish society. Sports is just one of those realms, and I hope that this post has been able to shed some light into these intrigues. I am sure that in the coming weeks there will be more revelations that will be worth keeping an eye out for.

Turkey’s Wild Ride at Euro 2016: The Social Fabric of a Country as Viewed Through Football

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The controversies surrounding the Turkish national football team at Euro 2016 have provided an interesting case study of Turkish society from a Sociological perspective. The team—in keeping with its character—left it to late, coming through with their backs against the wall. Just as they did in 2008, during their magical run to the Semi-finals, and in the qualifying round, Turkey defied the odds to be in position to qualify for the second round as one of the four best third-placed teams in the group stage following a spirited 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic (Perhaps their prayers worked, at least for a night). Unfortunately, progress depended on other matches—either Hungary had to defeat Portugal or both Ireland and Sweden had to fail to win against Italy and Belgium, respectively. In the end, Gabor Kiraly and his amazing sweatpants couldn’t keep Ronaldo from salvaging a draw for Portugal, and Italy’s “B team” (which was really a “C Team”, considering the weakness of this year’s squad) allowed the Republic of Ireland a 1-0 victory, edging Turkey out of the cup. It begs the question: Why not take care of your own business, instead of being forced to rely on favorable results from elsewhere?

The Turkish side looked uninspired against a Croatian team (who many have pegged as one of the possible outsiders to challenge for the title) in their first match, going down 1-0 to a brilliant Luka Modric strike. Turkey’s Ozan Tufan was busy fixing his hair when Modric was busy scoring the winning goal (A video can be seen here). In terms of goal differential, however, a one-goal loss was not so bad and Turkish coach Fatih Terim downplayed the “hair incident”. In their second group match, against defending champions Spain, the story was similar. Turkey looked non-existent and, perhaps intimidated more by the Spanish side’s pedigree than their ability, went down 3-0. Given that the Croats were able to defeat Spain in their final group match, it is very possible that Turkey psyched themselves out; after all Spain is a bigger “name” than Croatia and Turkish sides have typically struggled with an inferiority complex when facing football teams with strong backgrounds both at the club and international level. After the Spain match—where Turkish star Arda Turan was whistled down by his own fans—the criticisms of the Turkish football team reached new heights.

The criticism came from all segments of society, and was not just confined to the football pitch. Coach Fatih Terim—nicknamed “the Emperor”—is an admittedly polarizing figure within Turkish society, but his daughter deserved better. The male-dominated nature of Turkish society showed its ugly face when his daughter, fashion writer Buse Terim, was insulted on social media pages; some uncouth individuals wished her unborn child dead. Such shocking insults are unacceptable and show the larger-than-life importance of football to some people. Ms. Terim, for her part, will take legal action against the perpetrators.

To understand why there is so much anger directed at Mr. Terim and his family, it is useful to look at some of the numbers uncovered by Rahmi Turan, taken from a Forbes study. Fatih Terim is one of the highest paid coaches at Euro 2016, earning 3.5 million Euros a year. This is more than Vincente Del Bosque, the coach of defending champions Spain (2.7 million Euros) and Joachim Low, coach of world champions Germany (2.8 million Euros). It is fifteen times more than the wage of Croatia’s coach (250,000 Euros)—the same Croatia that defeated Turkey in game one. What is more concerning—and what goes to show how important football is interpreted to be in Turkish society—is Mr. Terim’s wage as it relates to the normal citizen. Forbes’ study took the average yearly Turkish wage as 18,000 US Dollar; using that figure Fatih Terim’s wage is exactly 2,900 times greater than the average wage in Turkey. No other coach comes close to this. While Mr. Del Bosque and Mr. Low make just 65 and 82 times the average wages, respectively, of their countries, the closest challenger to Mr. Terim is England’s Roy Hodgson. The England manager makes 4.5 million Euros a year, but that corresponds to just 143 times the average wage in England. Although I enjoy Mr. Terim for his unique nature, it is not hard to see why some people are put off by his at times pompous attitude—especially when the team he coaches is not doing well while he counts his money. And it is not just the coach who is being paid astronomical amounts.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/yazarlar/rahmi-turan/fatih-terimin-maasi-dunyada-dudak-ucuklatti-1282164/

Two Well Paid Men:


Image Courtesy Of: http://is-a-cunt.com/2016/04/roy-hodgson-2/


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/fotogaleri/39024–fatih-terim-in-halleri/5

Members of the Turkish side were paid a 500,000 Euro bonus just for qualifying for the final tournament, and when all of it was not paid in time some footballers apparently got upset. Turkish Football Federation President Yildirim Demiroren paid the remaining 200,000 Euros owed to the players before the Croatia match so as to placate some members of the team, upsetting many fans. The players—symptomatic of the wider issues within industrial football—see money as more important than national pride, or indeed even than just being a normal footballer doing their job. In fact, just a few other countries gave qualification bonuses. With the situation spiraling out of control coach Fatih Terim met Federation president Demiroren at the latter’s house in Cannes for a summit; the fact that the president of a country’s football association should have a house in Cannes is just a small example of how much money there is floating around Turkish football. As they say in Turkish, “Bal tutan parmağını yalar/One who holds the honey licks their finger”.

The use of football for economic as well as political gains has been going on for years in Turkey and this tournament is no different. Rahmi Turan’s column notes that the Turkish Football Federation invited 900 people to the tournament; by contrast, richer countries such as England and Germany brought far fewer (17 and 44, respectively). The Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on 13 June 2016 that TRT (the main state-owned channel, that has broadcast rights for Euro 2016) brought 93 people to cover the tournament; other countries brought teams of around 30 people. An opposition MP brought the issue up to Parliament, asking why public funds—by way of tax revenue—were being used to send state employees on what amounts to a glorified vacation. Many speculate that the reason so many people have been brought to France by various elements of the Turkish state is that a Euro 2016 excursion is a present offered by the Turkish state to favored individuals. The carrot of attending Euro 2016 may be offered as part of the patron/client relationships that have become commonplace in Turkish political culture.

In this climate—with so much money and influence to be had—it is not surprising that so many people should weigh in to voice their opinion towards Mr. Terim and the national team. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rhetorically asked the public if they were not ashamed of how they insulted star Arda Turan and coach Fatih Terim and his family. Mr. Erdogan added that such rude insults are not befitting of Turkish manners or Turkish culture.

Another one to weigh in was—most surprisingly, perhaps—a Professor of History at Marmara University. While I am not opposed to academics giving their opinion on sporting matters (!), Professor Ahmet Şimşirgil’s comments—which interestingly melded neo-Ottoman Islamic rhetoric with football—came during an unrelated program aired on Turkey’s state owned TRT following Turkey’s loss to Spain. The Professor said that “those who understand history can also understand football. We need to first teach our footballers history. You have to teach them how those (Ottoman-era) wars were won, how they happened; how can a footballer be made from a man who doesn’t know history…”. Professor Şimşirgil referred specifically to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror’s conquest of Istanbul, where “seventy-thousand people knew where they had to be”, a comment on the way Turkey’s players looked lost on the pitch against Spain. Professor Şimşirgil went on to criticize Mr. Terim for the ignorance of his comment that he would “observe the Ramadan fast for his players” during the tournament (another comment that Mr. Terim got flack for from a Muslim scholar/TV Personality). The Professor’s comment sparked a polemic with Mr. Terim that is still ongoing, with Mr. Terim vowing to no longer answer questions posed by TRT and the Professor reminding the Coach that his opinions were not those of TRT; indeed the Professor challenged Mr. Terim to meet him for a discussion on another channel.

With Turkey now eliminated from the tournament, Mr. Terim is sure to have some time on his hands—lets see if he accepts the challenge. Regardless of how the polemic plays out it is clear is that football still holds an important place in Turkish society and politicians know that, given the large amounts of money that are involved, football is not a sector to be ignored.

Euro 2016’s Poor Quality Puma Kits: “I Hope Puma Doesn’t Produce Condoms”

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These humorous words belong to Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri complaining about Puma’s Switzerland kit; an unprecedented four shirts were ripped during the Swiss side’s draw with France. Puma claim that the error stems from a batch of material where “yarns had been damaged during the production process, leading to a weakening in the final garment.” Later, it came out that the damaged shirts had actually been made for Puma in Turkey by the Istanbul based company Milteks. The company’s president Kemal Bilgingüllüoğlu said it was possible that the shirts were exposed to extreme heat when the name and number sets were applied by heat press. Mr. Bilgingüllüoğlu said he had no knowledge of where the name and number sets were applied. Seeing as how nine of the twenty-four teams participating in Euro 2016 had their shirts made by Milteks, such an error is alarming and raises other questions about industrial production in Turkey.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/554521/Puma__Yirtilan_formalar_Turkiye_de_uretildi_.html


Image Courtesy Of: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/20/football/shaquiri-switzerland-football-shirts-puma-condoms/

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen to promote Turkey as a rising power in the world, as well as a sound destination for foreign investment. Even though some commentators question whether Turkey’s rise may be coming to an end, the country is still a destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Despite such figures, however, inflation remains dangerously high and industrial output is down. These trends–coupled with growing instability in the region—should be of concern to Turkish politicians.

I have written about the extreme capitalism enveloping Turkey, characterized by large construction projects throughout the country. But construction alone cannot provide long-term economic development; production must also increase. Unfortunately, Turkey does not produce large-scale industrial goods for export. And now, as Euro 2016 has shown, the country cannot even produce a polyester football shirt. A simple football shirt may not seem like an economic bell-weather in most cases, but in this instance it does provide an interesting example through which to begin thinking about the future of the Turkish economy.

The Failure of Turkish Diplomacy Through Sports: The Interesting Case of Muhammad Ali

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Despite knowing nothing about boxing (since I am a football fan), even I know that Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest”. Evidently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also knows that and he somehow attempted to turn the late Boxer’s funeral into his own personal propaganda show. Fortunately—most importantly for the sake of the late great boxer—Mr. Erdogan’s move failed. This attempt by the Turkish politician to use sports as a diplomatic tool is, however, not unprecedented and its utter failure is reminiscent of past moves by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to mix sports and politics in the international realm. Just like the foreign policy of the party Mr. Erdogan founded, however, these moves have tended to make more enemies than friends—spelling disaster not only for Turkish foreign policy but the country’s international reputation as a whole.

After Muhammad Ali’s death on 3 June 2016, the Turkish president expressed his plan to attend the two-day funeral services on 9 and 10 June. Turkish columnist Rahmi Turan immediately wrote a column in the opposition daily Sozcu about how Mr. Erdogan’s ill-timed visit to the United States—coming just days after yet another deadly bombing hit Istanbul on 7 June—actually had historic precedence. While it did indeed seem strange at first that a leader should leave his country in the midst of such instability, a deeper look shows that the tenuous connection between Muhammed Ali and Turkey goes back exactly forty years to 1976. When Ali visited Istanbul in 1976 it was then assistant to the Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who has been called “the father of Turkish Islamism”, that greeted the legendary boxer at the Istanbul airport. The Boxer’s visit was turned into a political stunt to further the interests of Turkish political Islam. Forty years on, history is repeating itself.

Mr. Erdogan wanted to use Muhammad Ali’s funeral in a cynical attempt to push his own image. He said Ali stood up for those who were oppressed, praising his stance against the Vietnam war…ignoring the fact that—as many Turkish Twitter users pointed out—anyone who refuses to take part in Erdogan’s war against Turkish Kurds risks being branded a traitor. He spent money that came out of taxpayers’ pockets to visit the United States, taking his wife, children, and son-in-law with him, as well as the head of the ministry of religious affairs. Some saw this as a glorified family vacation. Perhaps it was—but it didn’t have a happy ending. Al-Monitor noted how Mr. Erdogan’s visit “scored no points”: He was not allowed to make a speech, he was not allowed to place a cloth from the Kaaba on the casket, he was unable to deliver his gifts to Mr. Ali’s family, and the head of the Turkish ministry of religious affairs was not allowed to make a speech. Mr. Erdogan was not featured in any pictures during the proceedings, and decided to leave a day early. Opposition media suspected that the abrupt departure came because Mr. Erdogan learned that Rabbi Michael Lerner would speak out against Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority; Mr. Erdogan himself explained that staying was “unnecessary” because the ceremony would have “no religious aspect”. In the end the burial went on despite Mr. Erdogan’s absence and it was his fans—15,000 of them to be exact—who made up the majority of the crowd that sent “The Greatest” off.

Thankfully the world’s most famous boxer was sent off by his fans in a way befitting of the People’s Champion, despite the designs of one particular foreign head of state. Unfortunately, Mr. Erdogan’s actions were not befitting of the country he represents and this is yet another example of a politician who has let power go to his head. To attempt to use another person’s funeral for political gains is despicable and is certainly not in the spirit of Muhammad Ali or the religion of Islam; one can safely say that Mr. Erdogan lost by decision here after Ali’s final knockout.

May Muhammad Ali Rest In Peace, my condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans.

The Top Matchups of Euro 2016: A Historical/Political Perspective

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With the 2016 European Football championships set to kick off in France just days from now on 10 June the continent—and the world—has been whipped into a football frenzy. Sadly, the shadow of another “F-word”—fear—also looms large over the current tournament. Interpol has warned that there is a ‘high threat’ of a terror attack, while British and American governments have warned their citizens to be vigilant during the tournament that runs from 10 June to 10 July. I have written about security concerns during major tournaments in the past, and this event—following the November 2015 attacks in Paris that targeted a football match—is certainly a prime target. Worryingly, it was reported that up to 82 of the 3,500 workers hired to provide extra security during the tournament are on French terror watch lists despite being screened by French intelligence. Given that this tournament is being played in the context of current political and cultural tensions—a climate where even wearing a Crusader’s outfit to support England will “offend” Muslim sensibilities (I personally find the costumes more comical than offensive)—it is interesting to take a look at a few of Euro 2016’s matchups that will hold interest for the historically minded fan in terms of political history.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3628876/BBC-mocked-article-offensive-England-fan-costumes.html

11 June 2016: Albania – Switzerland, Stade Bollaert-Delelis (Lens)

Even though the countries are miles apart literally and figuratively, this match is important in the context of recent demographic changes stemming from geopolitical developments. Tirana is a little less than 1,000 miles from Bern and Albania’s Gross National Income (in Purchasing Power Parity) is 10,980 USD to Switerland’s 59,160 USD–a full one sixth of the wealth. Yet on the football field, the two are closer than geography and economics can explain. The population of Switzerland is almost four percent Albanian, following emigration stemming first from the collapse of communism in 1991 (Albania had been a very closed society during the Cold War) and then from the 1997 unrest in Kosovo (fallout from the Balkan wars). Now, both Switzerland and Albania have several players that can play for either side. The Daily Mail noted nine Albanian players eligible to play for Switzerland and seven Swiss players eligible to play for Albania.

Albanian Players

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3359484/Euro-2016-s-confusing-draw-Switzerland-vs-Albania-brothers-face-players-taking-country-birth.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3359484/Euro-2016-s-confusing-draw-Switzerland-vs-Albania-brothers-face-players-taking-country-birth.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3359484/Euro-2016-s-confusing-draw-Switzerland-vs-Albania-brothers-face-players-taking-country-birth.html

Most of the Albanian/Swiss started their footballing careers at well-developed Swiss football academies and decided to return to play for their parents’ country (with a less-developed youth system) while others decided to play for their adopted country. The career paths of these “sports migrants” reflects the dynamics of international labor migrants—they choose to move abroad due to economic “pull” factors and send remittances to relatives back home. In this case it is not cash remittances that return to the home country, but human capital in the form of well-trained footballers representing the Albanian national team. Particularly interesting will be the case of the Xhaka brothers; Taulant and Granit will line up on opposite sides of the ball on 11 June This dynamic that transcends sports is what makes the Albania-Switzerland match a must-see, if only to see the reactions of players when they score goals. During the 2014 World Cup the state of the Swiss national team was discussed in terms of changing European views on immigration; even if this match may not have such wide-spread implications it will be interesting to watch how players reconcile the competing nationalisms they represent on the field with those they may hold in their hearts and minds.


14 June 2016: Austria – Hungary, Stade de Bordeax (Bordeaux)

Bordeaux will host a fascinating matchup on 14 June, and scholars of European history can be forgiven for doing a double-take when they see the names of Austria-Hungary side-by-side on the TV screen. From 1867 to 1918 the Austrian Empire and Kingdom of Hungary were united in a constitutional union as one of the world’s great powers. After the era of empires came to an end following World War One, Austria and Hungary became separate nation states but the sporting rivalry continued. Due to the many matches the two played against each other while known as the Austria-Hungarian Empire, this fixture is the second most played in international football–there have been 136 meetings so far between the two countries! The 137th installment of the rivalry is the first between the countries since 2006, when Hungary stole a 2-1 victory in Graz. Interestingly, Bordeaux will be just the 8th different city these teams have faced each other in and only the third match to be played at a neutral site; Hungary won 3-0 in Stockholm during the 1912 Olympics while Austria earned a 2-1 victory in Bologna during the 1934 World Cup. Hungary leads the all-time series 66 wins to 40. (All statistics from RSSSF http://www.rsssf.com/tableso/oosthongres.html)

One Becomes Two–The Flags of the Two Nations Above the Old Flag of the Empire. Images Courtesy of Wikipedia


NOTE: The following two matches apparently face a high risk of terrorist attack (http://www.unian.info/world/1368011-ukraine-poland-match-at-euro-2016-under-threat-of-terrorist-attack.html

16 June 2016: England – Wales, Stade Bollaert-Delelis (Lens)

 This matchup between two members of the United Kingdom may not seem exciting on paper, but is certainly interesting historically. Despite having been conquered by England in the 13th century Wales has still maintained a distinct cultural identity, exemplified by continued use of the Welsh language (the string of seemingly endless consonants without vowels seems strange to the eyes of a native English speaker and has always fascinated me on a personal level). The first meeting between the two nations took place in 1879 with England taking a 2-1 victory. That this rivalry dates back to the formation of the modern game in and of itself makes this a matchup worth paying attention to. The two countries played one another yearly (excepting the years interrupted by WWI and WWII) until the end of the British Championships in the mid 1980s. Since 1984 (the last time Wales tasted victory in the series) there have been 4 meetings; England has won all four matches with Wales failing to score during this period.

I suspect the competition in the match itself will be of top quality; fans will remember Manchester United star Ryan Giggs’ famous comment from 2002: “It still bugs me when people ask if I wished I’d played for England – I’m Welsh, end of story. It’s the question that’s bugged me more than any other over the last 10 years. I’d rather go through my career without qualifying for a major championship than play for a country where I wasn’t born or which my parents didn’t have anything to do with”. With such strong nationalist sentiment surrounding the game I am sure Wales will be up for the match, we shall see if they can snatch their first victory over the three lions in 22 years. (In the series England leads with 66 wins to Wales’ 14).

16 June 2016: Germany – Poland, Stade de France (Saint-Denis)

I anticipate that this match will be good not only on paper, but on the field as well. It pits the defending World Champions Germany against a rising star, the dark horses of Poland. Since the late 18th century, when Polish lands were partitioned between Prussia, Russia, and Austria, Poland has had a complicated relationship with their neighbors to the west. While Poland regained independence in 1918, Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 started the second World War. Since then relations between Germany and Poland have been contentious at times, even though they are now partners within the European Union.

Historically Poland has not fared well against Germany militarily and in football the results are not very different. This meeting between Poland and Germany is the third time the two geopolitical rivals will face each other in a major international football tournament in ten years; Poland lost 1-0 to Germany in the 2006 World Cup and 2-0 in the 2008 European Championships. This time, however, things might go differently for the Poles. During qualification Poland scored their first victory against Germany; the 2-0 win in 2014 was Poland’s first in a series dominated by 13 German wins and 6 draws. Many pundits peg Poland’s Robert Lewandowski—who plays in Germany for Bayern Munich—as the best striker in the tournament and he will shoulder much of the responsibility for Poland in a tournament that could see them go far. Avenging their past losses to Germany may also be on the cards for Poland this summer in France.


A Geopolitical Clash Looms on the Pitch. Image Courtesy Of: http://bundesligafanatic.com/poland-players-in-germany-bundesliga/

Football, Politics, and Islam in Turkey: May 2016

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When a country’s president is former footballer, the connection between politics and sport can be more apparent. At the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Congress on 22 May 2016, where new Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pledged his allegiance to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the festivities took an interesting turn. Spectators at the conference did a tifo consisting of choreographies; images of Mr. Yildirim, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Mr. Erdogan were raised to the rafters by spectators.


Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ak-partililerden-uc-lidere-koreografi-40107385

This show was strangely reminiscent of football supporters’ Tifos. Here is a list of 10 great looking choreographies from around the world and fans of both Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have put on similar shows in Turkish football. The Galatasaray choreography shows the team’s ownership of Istanbul’s geography but showing a lion advancing towards the Bosporus Bridge while Fenerbahce’s combines the team’s badge with Turkish nationalism by using an image of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The tifo at the AKP conference, by contrast, confirms the old saying about Turkish politics—people support political parties as if supporting a football team.


Image Courtesy Of: http://spor.milliyet.com.tr/koreografi-tepkisi/spor/spordetay/23.04.2012/1531627/default.htm


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/kadikoyde-muthis-koreografi-40005855

The football analogies, however, do not stop there. President Erdogan, wary of criticism, offered that—perhaps—parliamentary groups should not have observers since in the football world matches can be played without fans if fans misbehave. Therefore, the reasoning stands, if politicians misbehave then they should not be able to observe in parliament. The liberal Cumhuriyet offered a sarcastic second solution: Why not just disband parliament? But President Erdogan has gone to great lengths to prevent criticism from all walks of society. On 20 May 2016 the Turkish parliament voted to lift immunity for MPs, a move targeting MPs from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who are accused of being part of the terrorist PKK) and MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who have had charges of “insulting the President” levied on them. Outside of politics, on 31 May 2016 the 2006 Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac was convicted of insulting President Erdogan through social media postings. In this climate, it isn’t that far fetched that the President would consider treating parliamentary sessions like football matches.

Another important development happened at the Black Sea club Trabzonspor. The team’s new coach Ersun Yanal has decided to ban his players from sporting beards, with a 25,000 Turkish Lira (About 8,000 US Dollars) fine for appearing in a match with a beard. The player most affected by this will be Aykut Demir, who has been known as much for off the field incidents as for his on field play. Mr. Demir, born in Holland, has reflected the changing currents in Turkish society since transferring to Ankara’s Genclerbirligi in 2009. His nickname is “Commando”, stemming from his love of weapons and his strong sense of Turkish national pride according to Hurriyet. While at Genclerbirligi he posed for a photo shoot decked out like Turkish special forces, complete with war paint and a blue beret. These days, however, he has taken to appearing in public dressed in Islamic garb—complete with a beard even a haji would be proud up. With the arrival of Mr. Yanal, however, Mr. Demir’s beard will have to go. That Mr. Demir has taken a more outwardly pious appearance is no surprise given the gradual Islamicization of Turkish society; what is interesting is that Mr. Yanal has moved to distance his players from this kind of appearance. We will keep watching to see if other teams make similar moves in the future, since Genclerbirligi’s chairman Ilhan Cavcav made a similar move two years ago.


Mr. Yanal Apparently Does Not Fear the Beard. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/trabzonsporlu-aykut-demirden-olay-fotograf-40012107

Extreme Capitalism Comes Home

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They say that you can’t go home again. They say it as if the concept that is “home” disappears the moment you cross that county line (or state line or city line). Before the last few days, I never believed this could be true. Home is in your heart right? It is a place where emotions are entwined with memories and experiences connected to space…right? In short, things that cannot be fabricated or replaced; these are things that cannot be replicated. The concept of “Home” is made up of moments—taken out of time—that (partially) define who we, as human beings, are. Right? Well…unfortunately, today I learned that this isn’t always the case. In fact, “Home” can be stripped away, whisked out from under you like the tablecloth on a cartoon’s table. Unfortunately—unlike as is the case in the cartoon—the items on the table (of your life) do not just fall into place just as they were before. In fact…everything is replaced in a disjointed way. Sure the items are still there, they just aren’t there in the same way.

Like I did a few years ago, when I took a walking tour of Istanbul, I decided to take a walking tour of the seaside village in which I spent the summers of my childhood. Since I experienced many pivotal moments in my life in this village, the place has a special meaning for me. Sadly—through the eyes of a grown man—the place has, inevitably, changed. Not, I may add, for the better.

On my Sunday walk I realize that my first route is blocked. A new construction site has, somehow, been built over the road. As if building houses (valued at one million US Dollars each) over the land that—as a child—I had picked figs in necessitates building over a road (which was, I may add, resurfaced just three years ago). But apparently it does; it is always more profitable to destroy and rebuild, after all. As someone who has never understood business—the concept of selling things at a profit (or taking advantage of people) is foreign to me—I cannot understand the changes that surround my childhood home. So I walk on, through the middle of a construction site. The workers stare at me with strained eyes, their neon yellow construction vests almost blinding in the sunshine of an early summer day, in stark contrast to their dark sun-tanned faces. Their eyes tell a story: “I was sent here to build houses that I will never, ever, have the chance to live in.” I fill in the rest of the story: They came here from towns and villages in Eastern Turkey that are now under attack, part of the struggle between the Turkish state and Kurdish minority that has been ongoing since the founding of the republic (for more on this, readers can access this—somewhat hyperbolic—piece from the New York Times). But there is money to be made, and I am in no place to tell people that they should not feed their families, even if it feeds an extreme brand of capitalism that just cannot support itself for much longer.


I continue my walk thinking about how the US dollar is now three times the value of the Turkish Lira; just a few years ago it was fluctuating between a (comparatively) healthy 1.5-1.7. How will people afford the housing? Credit? Mortgages? We…. all know how that turned out in the United States…and the Turkish economy can’t handle that type of shock, reeling as it is from the recent bombings and resulting loss in tourism revenue.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.33.14 PM

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=TRY&view=5Y

Once in the main village I pass by what used to be a small market; one where small rotisserie chickens were sold and where we—as wayward teenagers—would buy beers for long summer nights spent on the beach talking about the future. The space now belongs to a company selling construction materials. Soon, I realize why the man’s market couldn’t compete in the larger, capital “M”, Market. Five national chains have moved into the neighborhood, all within—at most—a fifteen-minute walk of the closed market. It is basic economics—the national chain can sell at a lower price than the local corner store. It is sad. But it is also true, when the world is all about the bottom line.

I walk the familiar old streets out to the marina, where the white yachts of the rich are docked, floating idly in the blue expanse. One of the proprietors of a fish restaurant solicits a friend’s attention but I ignore him. I don’t have much of an appetite after what I’ve seen. And what I see next doesn’t make me feel any better.

On the return I come to the crest of a hill overlooking the new construction and I remember, at the end of the summer two years ago, watching bulldozers uproot the forest I had walked through as a child. Now, only two trees remain and it feels like a bad joke. The asphalt is covered in mud from an earlier shower and I see that even the crystal clear sea of my childhood is gone. The mud from the construction site is running off into the water; it is not a place I would like to swim and I wonder if the soon-to-be owners of these houses would agree. Pay one million dollars and not have roads or a beach? Not a good return on an investment but…who am I to say that? I’m just a guy that writes.




Two Years Ago, with Half the Forest Already Uprooted:


I finish my walk and head home, ready to do some more reading, but not before facing the visual assault of a brand new four story housing development being built behind my home. An ancient stone wall—built rock by rock by the hands of the farmer whose horses I used to feed carnations to as a child—has been demolished to make way for a concrete wall the color I would call “New England Winter Sky”. Who gave them the right to build a high rise in the middle of a small village? Well…the government did, of course. Without the consent of the state, nothing is possible in the modern world. And if all the state wants is to line its pockets then…anything goes. Its appalling and disgusting and it makes me want to know why greed exists in the world, yet I know the farmer—so many long years ago, had the same thoughts I have now when his land was encircled by development. May he rest in peace. I decide that, instead of reading, I’ll head down to the beach with a cold beer and watch the sunset. After all, the new development—despite its four stories—wont be able to bask in the sunset light like I can.



The next day a friend and I come upon a small kitten in the village. It seems to have lost its mother and—certainly—does not know what to do now that it is all alone in the world. We play with it and feed it, watching it explore nature. The joy of rolling in the grass, the pain of a rose bush’s thorns; we quickly learn the pleasures and pains of life. I can’t help but wonder what it will do when all of the nature is swallowed up by human greed. Later, that same friend sends me a news story as I’m sitting at home: six people have been wounded and two killed in an assault at a night club in town after a disagreement between construction workers working on yet another new commercial development and employees of the club. I sigh and look out the window, thinking of the kitten. I wonder how it is doing. I think I might buy some cat food tomorrow morning. After all, we all need a little help in the world as we stomach the loss of our innocence.


Author’s Note: The name of the place in question has been purposefully left out since this type of development can—and does—happen anywhere in the world, and indeed in any context. Industrial Football, for instance, is the manifestation of this phenomenon in sports as stadiums slowly disappear. Thank you for reading.

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