On 11 April 2016 the 41,903 seater Vodafone Arena finally opened in Istanbul as Beşiktaş defeated their nemesis Bursaspor 3-2 on Monday night. It was a homecoming Beşiktaş fans could be pleased with, having been away from their stadium since May 2013. Incidentally, that was the same month the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul, a fact not lost on diken.com that noted that “the stadium opened like [the old Inönü stadium] closed”. That is to say with confrontations between fans and police; tear gas and water cannons were deployed on 11 May 2013 before the final match in the old Inönü Stadium. So, why is it that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same?
The New Stadium in All its Grandeur. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailysabah.com/football/2016/04/10/black-eagles-besiktas-back-in-their-nest
The Old, 11 May 2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/besiktas-savas-alanina-dondu-23259349
And the New 11 April 2016: http://www.diken.com.tr/kapandigi-gibi-acildi-vodafone-arena-onundeki-taraftara-biber-gazi-ve-tazyikli-su/
The official government opening of the stadium came a day earlier on Sunday, 10 April 2016 as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former President Abdullah Gül, Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman, and national team coach Fatih Terim had an impromptu kick around at the center circle. Never mind that Prime Minister Davutoğlu missed the ball both times it was kicked to him; the out of form politician was duly mocked on social media and one sarcastic user noted that Mr. Davutoğlu’s ball control was far superior to Lionel Messi’s.
Meanwhile, former footballer President Erdoğan (who displayed much better footwork) wished Beşiktaş well in its new stadium; never mind that his government pursued a court case against the team’s fan group, Carsşı for involvement in “terrorism” and planning a “coup”. On this day Mr. Erdoğan used the event to underline that, due to the construction of new stadiums across the country, the subject of the country hosting the Olympics was a mere “formality” (Interestingly, the English version of this speech did not include the words “formality”). Following Turkey’s failure to land the Olympics two summers ago this opportunity was seen as a way to further foment national pride amidst the chaos that seems to be descending slowly on the Turkish state. For the record Carşı were not invited to the official opening, in their place a 1,000 person delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) youth branch were invited; they were the only “fans” invited to the opening, highlighting the political tensions overshadowing the stadium’s opening day. Indeed President Erdoğan cut a lonely figure on the opening of the “people’s stadium” as it was devoid of people. Reportedly, fans were kept out due to a fear of possible protests.
11 April, game day, was more eventful. Beşiktaş fans faced tear gas and water cannons as they made their way to the stadium; the official comment from police was that they were clearing the way for visiting Bursaspor’s arrival to the stadium. Later, in the stadium anti government chants rose from the stands as fans sang a song born out of the Gezi Park protests “biber gazi sık bakalım/C’mon spray us with tear gas”, while some chanted “We are Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk] Soldiers”. CNN Turk reported that one police officer slapped a fan in what was supposed to be a festive event. Indeed, the scenes were eerily parallel to those from the last match at the old Inönü stadium in May 2013. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that—as with many things lately in Turkey—even the opening of a stadium is political.
Opposition channel Halk TV posted a picture on their Facebook page of the façade of the new Vodafone Arena; it was decorated with a Turkish Flag and a Beşiktaş flag along with portraits of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President Erdoğan, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu. The second picture says that “parallel winds” blew the portraits of Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu over. I have written previously about the politicization of stadium construction in Turkey, and it is not surprising that the Turkish political establishment would stamp its mark on the opening of the Vodafone Arena.
Image Courtesy of: Halk TV Facebook Page. NOTE: It is unclear if these two pictures were taken on the same day, the left most portrait looks different in the two images. However, it is not important if the two images are from the same period in time; the main point here is twofold: 1) That the Government should stamp their mark on the opening of a sports stadium and, 2) That an opposition TV channel should voice their opinion about it. This interaction further underlines the politicization of stadia in Turkey.
Yılmaz Özdil, a columnist for the opposition newspaper Sözcü, reminded the public of the recent politicization of—among all things—stadium names. His entire commentary is available at the end of this post, it does not require knowledge of Turkish to understand the main point. In short, the newly constructed stadiums in Turkey are part of an ideological battle for Turkey’s history. While many old stadiums were named after Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the new stadiums are being labeled with the generic name “arena”, often with the addition of some commercial brand attached at the end of it.
Fans of sports in the United States, England, and Europe should not be unfamiliar with the neoliberal undertones inherent in this practice, part and parcel of the spread of Industrial football. Multitudes of U.S. Baseball stadiums now boast corporate names, as do NFL (American) football stadiums. London’s Highbury was demolished to make way for Emirates Stadium. Dortmund’s Westfalenstadiuon became Signal Iduna Park while Bayern Munich (and 1860) moved from the Olympiastadion to Allianz Arena. But these were mainly economically motivated name changes, rather than ideologically motivated.
Mr. Özdil notes that Bursa’s old Atatürk stadium has become the Timsah (Crocodile) Arena. Antalya Atatürk Stadium has become Antalya Arena. Provincial Afyon Atatürk Stadium has become the Afyon Arena. Konya Atatürk Stadium has become Torku Arena, named after a local foodstuffs company. Rize Atatürk Stadium has become Çaykur Didi Stadium, named after a new iced tea brand. And Beşiktaş’s Inönü stadium—named after Turkey’s second President Ismet Inönü—has become the Vodafone Arena, named after a multinational telecommunications company. Mr. Özdil regrets the erasure of Turkish history from stadium names across Turkey, seeing it as an assault on Turkish history, while noting that—on 8 April 2016—Izmir’s Karşıyaka Sports club reversed the name of their basketball team’s stadium from Karşıyaka Arena to . . . Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu.
Because the name of another figure from Turkish history disappears from a stadium—and violence accompanies the new stadium’s opening as it did the old one’s closing—we can be forgiven for thinking that, indeed, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it has its good side as well. Football legend Pele once called the old Inönü Stadium “a great place to watch football” because it was the world’s only stadium with a view of two contintents. Indeed, we can take peace in the fact that the new Vodafone Arena is—at least—located in the same place as the old Inönü Stadium and the Dolmabahçe Stadium before it. Perhaps, in this round, industrial football has not achieved a complete victory. A stadium still stands at the center of a historic city like Istanbul while Beşiktaş’s fans remembered–despite the political sideshow–those who played an important part in Turkish history.
Appendix: Yılmaz Özdil’s Full column, detailing all stadium name changes.
Bursa Atatürk stadıydı. Timsah Arena yapıldı.
Antalya Atatürk stadıydı. Antalya Arena yapıldı.
Afyon Atatürk stadıydı. Afyon Arena yapıldı.
Eskişehir Atatürk stadıydı. Es Es Arena yapıldı.
Antakya Atatürk stadıydı. Hatay Arena yapıldı.
Konya Atatürk stadıydı. Torku Arena yapıldı.
Sakarya Atatürk stadıydı. Sakarya Arena yapıldı.
Beşiktaş İnönü stadıydı. Vodafone Arena yapıldı.
İzmit İsmetpaşa stadıydı. Kocaeli Arena yapıldı.
Malatya İnönü stadıydı. Malatya Arena yapıldı.
Ali Sami Yen stadıydı. Telekom Arena yapıldı.
Samsun 19 Mayıs stadıydı. Samsun Arena yapıldı.
Sivas 4 Eylül stadıydı. Sivas Arena yapıldı.
Şanlıurfa 11 Nisan stadıydı. GAP Arena yapıldı.
Gaziantep Kamil Ocak stadıydı. Gaziantep Arena yapılıyor.
Adana 5 Ocak stadıydı. Adana Koza Arena yapılıyor.
Batman 16 Mayıs stadıydı. Batman Arena yapılıyor.
Kayseri Atatürk stadıydı. Kadir Has stadı yapıldı.
Rize Atatürk stadıydı. Çaykur Didi stadı yapıldı.
Diyarbakır Atatürk stadıydı. Diyarbakır Arena yapılıyor.
Giresun Atatürk stadıydı. Çotanak Arena yapılıyor.
Elazığ Atatürk stadıydı. Elazığ Arena yapılıyor.
* * *
İzmir’de de arena vardı. Karşıyaka arena spor salonu. Dün resmen silindi. “Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu” yapıldı!
Göğsümüzü gere gere “ben İzmirliyim” dememize bir kez daha vesile olan… Karşıyaka belediye başkanı Hüseyin Mutlu Akpınar ve Karşıyaka belediye meclisinin değerli üyelerine yurttaş olarak teşekkür ederim.
Memleketteki arena işgaline karşı Hasan Tahsin direnişidir bu.
Ve, çağrım tüm Türkiye’ye… Şehrinizdeki Atatürk izlerinin silinmesine geçit vermeyin. Fair play çerçevesinde protesto edin, maçlarda pankart açın, sosyal medya grupları kurun, itiraz edin, alay edin, pişman edin.
Tüm arena tabelalarını tek tek yeniden Atatürk’le değiştirene kadar “sportif kuvayi milliye”ye katılın kardeşim.