Given the recent geopolitical events in Turkey and the wider Middle East, it is no wonder that Turkey is swiftly being seen as a “dangerous” destination. After the United States ordered the families of Consulate staff to leave Istanbul, UEFA made a statement to reassure Manchester United fans ahead of the team’s visit to Istanbul. The Express reported that UEFA told Sky Sports: “Whilst there is no information that the threat to US citizens in Turkey also extends to UK citizens, UEFA has today sought the necessary security guarantees from the Turkish Football Federation and the local public authorities regarding the visit of Manchester United and their supporters to Istanbul.” The Manchester Evening News also reported that United fans visiting Istanbul for the match would be given an armed police escort to and from the stadium. The letter sent to fans read “Manchester United advise all fans to remain in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul ahead of kick-off, where a security bus service available to catch outside the Dolmabahce Mosque will run to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium. The hour-long journey will be under armed police guard”. Never mind that Taksim square would be the last place I would want to be in Istanbul in terms of safety, but then again I’m not sure that Manchester United’s staff has any real knowledge of Istanbul—other than, of course, that it is “dangerous”. After all, another UK sports figure, golfer Rory Mcllroy, pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open golf tournament on 31 October 2016 citing security figures. Once again, I am not sure that Mr. Mcllroy has a deep knowledge of Turkey—or really any other place, for that matter—either; he also pulled out of the Olympics due to fear over the Zika virus.
I do not, of course, blame either the Manchester United club or Mr. Mcllroy for their fears. The fact that Turkey has become so unstable in recent years is directly tied to globalization; the conflict in Syria has spread across the Middle East, fomented by backers in Russia, Europe, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf. While Turkish society (and by extension, sports) embrace globalization for its economic benefits, the country itself—in the context of geopolitical reality—falls victim to the globalization of conflict. The state can live by the sword of globalization but must also be prepared to die by the sword of globalization.
The third axis of this kind of globalization—that one that exacerbates the fear portion—is, of course, the media. The stories written tend to increase, rather than decrease, misconceptions about the country and disseminate them to the global media. For starters, none of the three British papers cited even know what the capital of Turkey is:
30 October 2016-Manchester Evening News: “Istanbul has a history of football violence. The capital was recently the centre of an attempted military coup in Turkey.”
31 October 2016-The Express: “But UEFA are concerned that recent terrorist attacks in the Turkish capital and a failed military coup could affect safety of travelling fans.”
1 November 2016-The Mirror: “English football has a troubled relationship with the Turkish capital – two Leeds fans were stabbed to death before the Uefa Cup semi-final in 2000.”
The capital, of course, is Ankara, so to expect neutral or objective reporting from outlets with such amateurish editing standards may be asking too much. And that is without even getting into the content. The Manchester Daily news, in back to back sentences, links “football violence” to an attempted military coup. This, of course, is misleading to the reader. (Never mind, also, that they believe a city can be the “centre” of an attempted military coup; a city could be the “focus” of an attempted military coup, but probably not a “centre” of one). The Mirror, taking a different approach, links Istanbul to hooligan violence in 2000 with no context at all. The Express provided the content that is nearest to anything remotely objective.
As a humorous anecdote, The Mirror added a story about Manchester United’s 1993 visit to Istanbul for their tie with Fenerbahce’s arch-rivals, Galatasaray. United famously crashed out after the tie, but it remains in football-fan folklore as the “Midnight Express” of football. Thankfully, the Mirror added Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor to their piece, writing “Even hardman boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested ‘the police were even more frightening than the fans’, though he did add he’d seen worse at a Glasgow wedding”. Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor aside, the point here is twofold. The first point is that Turkey’s rise (driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), has been characterized by an unquestioning desire to support and join the global capitalist system and neo-liberal economics. The country lived by the sword when foreign capital came streaming in, they began dying by the sword when the Syrian civil war (which the government, along with a number of other external actors, exacerbated) began to spill over the border. The second point is that global media is rarely neutral; the supposedly benevolent journalist is rarely interested in telling the full truth. Rather, they tell the “truth” that pays the bills—and that money tends to come from those who (again) benefit from the global capitalist system.
Cantona Escorted Off the Pitch (Top); United Are Welcomed To “Hell” at the Old Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993 (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-bryan-robson-istanbul-9173277
Author’s Note: As I publish this, Turkey is experiencing the latest repercussions of the globalization of conflict I mentioned above. A blast has hit police headquarters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, after 11 pro-Kurdish MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained. At the time of writing internet services–which represent the globalized world–such as WhatsApp Messenger and Twitter have been shut down in Turkey.