Home

As the Geopolitical Rivalry Between Turkey and Greece Reveals Itself in Football (again), How Does It Reflect Current Views Towards Nationalism and the Nation?

Leave a comment

After Osmanlispor’s European season came crashing to an end following a 0-3 loss at home to Greece’s Olympiakos, the story of the match has slowly revealed itself to be more than just football itself: It is a story that involves an age old geopolitical rivalry that is being re-interpreted in the context of a world-system that is in flux. Globalism or localism? Is the response to globalism chauvinist nationalism that pits countries against one another in a zero-sum game, or is it a more civilized form of nationalism that views countries as equal actors on a world stage? While this struggle has played out most prominently in Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union during “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, it is a struggle that is far from over. Interestingly, the struggle even played itself out in a relatively insignificant Europa League tie between Turkish side Osmanlispor and Greek side Olympiakos FC.

Scholars of history will be familiar with the Greco-Turkish rivalry, a contentious relationship rooted in geopolitics since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Given the history, any matchup in European football between Greek and Turkish sides is bound to be a contentious affair. This year’s match was no exception since Osmanlispor itself is a team that represents the neo-Ottoman identity that the current Turkish government is building itself around.

“Osmanli” is Turkish for Ottoman; Osmanlispor FK can be loosely translated as “Ottomansport Football Club”. The team was originally Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor, the team of the Ankara municipality, and run by controversial Ankara Mayor Ibrahim Melih Gokcek before being re-named to “Osmanlispor”. While the history is complicated, the team is, clearly, the team of the government. Their “Ottoman” name is not just a coincidence; it is meant to re-enforce the neo-Ottoman visions of the ruling government in the field of sports. The team’s main fan group Akincilar even have a Twitter handle that is written in Arabic characters while the picture they Tweeted ahead of the Olympiakos match features players charging out of a sepia-toned mist; it is an image evocative of historic art depicting the Ottoman cavalry charging into battle.

 

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-10-38-29-pm

The picture Osmanlispor’s Fan Group Tweeted Ahead of the Olympiakos Match Features Players Charging Out of a Sepia-Toned Mist. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

turkishcavalryxviictave.jpg

The Image Tweeted By Osmanlispor’s Fans Is Thematically Similar to Artwork Depicting the Ottoman Cavalry (Sepahis) Charging into Battle Out of a Cloud Of Dust. Image Courtesy Of: https://postimg.cc/image/5pa34tsij/

 

This kind of neo-Ottomanism is loosely connected to increasing religiosity and Turkish nationalism as well. Ahmet Gokcek’s (the son of Ibrahim Melih Gokcek) tweets show this synthesis well. Using football as a base, he sends messages that combine notions of Turkish nationalism with Islamic rhetoric. The first Tweet came after the first leg draw with Olympiakos—“Elhamdulillah” means “Praise be to Allah” in Arabic. His other Tweets, centered around the matches of Turkish teams in European competition, combine similar religious messages with images of the Turkish flag and the badges of Turkish football clubs: One says “May the Lord not embarrass our teams in Europe”, with Mr. Gokcek’s signature beneath the words. The team’s coach, Mustafa Resit Akcay, himself said (before the second leg) that “we [Osmanlispor] will feel pressure because of our name and because of representing our country”. Here we clearly see a connection between the nation and the Ottoman past.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 10.40.26 PM.png

Ahmet Gokcek Thanks Allah For Osmanlispor’s Draw. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 11.10.32 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 11.13.02 PM.png

Ahmet Gokcek’s Tweets Show the Relationship Between Turkish Nationalism, Islamism, Neo-Ottomanism, and Football. The First Carries an Image of the Turkish Flag Resembling a Blood Stain (Connecting the Ideas of War and Nationalism); The Latter Tweet Carries the Caption “Our Prayers Are With You…” While the Quote in the Image Reads “May the Lord Not Embarrass Our Teams in Europe” in the Context of the Turkish Star and Crescent. Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ahmetgokcek?lang=en.

 

Perhaps the most interesting pre-game Tweet came before the first leg when Istanbul Basaksehirspor (another team essentially created by the ruling AKP government) wished Osmanlispor luck by saying “Good luck on your trip to Byzantine”. Clearly Basaksehirspor’s Tweeters are not very familiar with history since “Byzantium” was the Byzantine Empire’s name for…Istanbul, and the Byzantine Empire encompassed both Anatolia and Piraeus (where Olympiakos is from). In short, the Tweet can be seen as framing the match in terms of a historical rivalry between the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires that has carried over to the modern nation-states of Turkey and Greece.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 4.12.07 AM.png

Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ibfk2014?lang=en

 

After Olympiakos’ victory some segments of the Turkish press were upset at an Olympiakos tweet which returned the favor. Olympiakos Tweeted—in English and Greek—a message that reads “A triumph for all Greeks! Greece who knows how to win!”. The image accompanying the tweet consists of Olympiakos’ badge and the Greek flag; it is a fusion of football and Greek nationalism—perhaps a deliberate fusion in direct response to Basaksehirspor’s Tweets (and Ahmet Gokcek’s Osmanlispor Tweets) which fuse Turkish nationalism and neo-Ottomanism.

It is clear that the pre-match and post-match Tweets from both sides reflect forms of chauvinistic nationalism. Yet, the Greek press (according to Turkish media) actually praised the Osmanlispor fans for a banner during  the match which read—in Greek, Turkish, and English—“Dear Neighbor Friendship Will Win” [Author’s Note: The Turkish, “Dostluk Kazansin Komsu” translates more accurately as “Dear Neighbor May Friendship Win”. For it to be “Friendship Will Win” it would have to have been phrased as “Dostluk Kazanir”].

 

komsu-bu-pankarti-begendi-8619135.Jpeg

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/komsu-bu-pankarti-begendi-osmanlispor-2402475-skorerhaber/

 

The banner itself reflects the disconnect between traditional nationalist representations of the nation and the present pressure for “globalism” in the face of globalization. While Osmanlispor’s fans tried to put out a public message of “fair play”, the team’s fans—after Olympiakos’ first goal—ended up throwing objects onto the field (a fact only reported in a few media outlets, such as this play-by-play account of the match).

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 11.55.31 PM.png

Please See Minute 54. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.karar.com/spor-haberleri/canli-anlatim-osmanlispor-olympiakos-kac-kac-baskentte-kritik-uefa-mucadelesi-anlik-anlatim-397490#

 

The message on the banner was just words; not only was it poorly translated but it was—given the fans’ later actions—also not heartfelt. On the other side, while the Greek press may have praised Osmanlispor’s message of friendship, ahead of the match they were busy claiming that the grass in Osmanlispor’s stadium was painted green to cover up the fact that it was dead. Again, the spirit of “fair play” is only alive in the discourse surrounding the banner in the stadium; everywhere else the discussion (from both sides) is quite antagonistic.

This tension between what nationalism should be—and how it should be expressed—in the current international climate is a fascinating one. Personally, I do not believe that the divide need be one between chauvinistic nationalism driven by the perceived superiority of one nation over others on the one hand and over-hyped messages of (often faked) “friendship” and “tolerance” on the other. Rather, it should be an acceptance that countries—like football teams—all exist in one inter-connected environment. This does not mean that one country (or football team) is intrinsically better than another (this is the kind of sentiment that encourages violent forms of nationalism and fandom—in some cases hooliganism) but it does recognize that each country has a right to put itself first. The answer to what nationalism “should” be in the context of a rapidly changing international environment is still open to debate, and it will be interesting to see how this process is reflected in the football world going forward.

Football Meets Politics Head on as Sports Figures Weigh iN On Turkey’s Future

Leave a comment

 

readimage.ashx_.jpg

Turkish Football Fans Have Again Gotten Involved In Politics Ahead Of The Referendum. The Caption In this File Photo Is Relevant And Reads “We Will Not Give In To Industrial and Political Power: WE WILL NOT BE SILENT FANS; Long Live The Brotherhood Of Colors”. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/fenerbahce-taraftarindan-galatasaray-taraftarina-cagri-hayir-diyoruz-var-misiniz-183452

 

There can be no denying that football is a major part of culture around the world. It plays a role in local culture (from the local non league side) as well as global culture (FC Barcelona’s badge is likely one of the most recognizable symbols in the world). Events in the past few days have shown how deeply engrained the sport is in Turkish culture, as celebrities from the sporting world gave their opinion on Turkey’s future.

After the Turkish Parliament approved a controversial presidential system on 21 January 2017, with a vote of 339 in favor out of 550 (330 was the threshold), the issue will go to a public vote in a referendum some time in late March or early April of 2017. A switch to a presidential system would be an unquestionably a bad decision for Turkey, since, as Reuters notes, “The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power”. I could not agree more; a presidential system without checks and balances would spell ruin for a country that has already been ravaged by an odd form of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it isn’t very surprising since the globalist world—based on a strict adherence to neoliberal policies—inadvertently fosters totalitarianism.

In One Dimensional Man philosopher Herbert Marcuse points out that “contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian” (Marcuse, 1964: 3). For him, in this kind of society, the “supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society” (Marcuse, 1964: 23). In short, modern capitalist society promises more and more improvement, more and more growth and (subsequently) more riches, stupefying people into following the flow of society without questioning its direction. That is the situation in modern day Turkey. It is undeniable that the country experienced a strong period of growth under the AKP between 2002-2011, when

the Turkish economy grew by an average rate of 7.5 percent annually. Lower inflation and interest rates led to a major increase in domestic consumption. And the Turkish economy began to attract unprecedented foreign direct investment, thanks to a disciplined privatization program. The average per capita income rose from $2,800 U.S. in 2001 to around $10,000 U.S. in 2011, exceeding annual income in some of the new EU members.

(Taspinar, 2012)

Unfortunately, this unprecedented growth has not come without a price. It has resulted in large scale divisions between secular and religious, Kurdish and Turkish, urban and rural; competing identities have increasingly come into conflict. The AKP’s poor judgement in foreign policy—like supporting the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—have also opened the country up to attacks from ISIS/ISIL/DAESH on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. And now the people—blinded by their greed for more and inability to see past it, as Marcuse notes—are willing to throw their future away by getting behind a man like Mr. Erdogan who has continually ignored his country in order to profit from involvement in the neoliberal global economy.

With support for a “YES” vote in the referendum believed to be at around 32%, it seems that Mr. Erdogan has realized that an appeal to celebrities from the sports world might help boost his numbers. On 24 January 2017 famous sports commentator (and former Fenerbahce star) Ridvan Dilmen posted a video on his social media page with a call to the fellow sports superstar Arda Turan of FC Barcelona:

“Our nation, our country is going through a very difficult period. It is literally a war of independence. We want a strong Turkey. I say YES, I am also in for a strong Turkey. Arda, are you in?”

“Vatanımız, ülkemiz çok zorlu bir süreçten geçiyor. Adeta bir İstiklal Savaşı. Güçlü bir Türkiye istiyoruz. Güçlü bir Türkiye için evet ben de varım. Arda sen de var mısın?”

 Soon Mr. Dilmen’s call went viral as other celebrities—including former Galatasaray Striker Burak Yilmaz—voiced their support for a “YES” vote and the presidential system. This campaigning is not surprising, given that Mr. Dilmen has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Turkish Football Federation and has publically voiced his support for Mr. Erdogan as well. For Mr. Dilmen it is a good choice; by making his politics clear he can assure his own safety in a climate where at least 2,000 footballers are being investigated for their involvement with the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused of being behind the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. But for his nation, it is a very bad choice. Of course he has just been blinded by his greed, a byproduct of the extreme capitalism that has engulfed Turkey in the last fifteen years.

 

kocaman_manset.jpg

Do Mr. Dilmen (L) and Mr. Kocaman (R) Have Different Views Regarding Their Country’s Future? Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/01/25/aykut-kocamandan-evet-kampanyasi-icin-farkli-aciklama-582090/

 

Fortunately other celebrities have hit back at their greedy colleagues, emphatically calling for a “NO” vote. Konyaspor’s head coach Aykut Kocaman also offered a voice of reason amid the maelstrom, saying “The players, including myself, should not be involved in politics. Because everyone makes up the group that supports us. We belong to no man, we are only the men of our profession and Konyaspor, and the players should be the same way” Mr. Kocaman even took a veiled shot at the establishment when he said “we are not people who live in glass houses, we are people who are in society (Biz öyle sırça köşklerde yaşayan insanlar değiliz, toplumun içinde yer alan insanlarız)”. The football fans have gotten involved as well, with Fenerbahce’s leftist “Sol Acik” group asking Galatasaray’s leftist “Tekyumruk” group “We also say NO for a free, equal, and secular country, @tekrumruk are you in?” on Twitter. Tekyumurk’s response created a similarly viral tweet as they reached out to Besiktas’s Belestepe group with the same tweet. Belestepe’s response was “No, one thousand times NO”.

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 3.40.47 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 3.40.58 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 3.41.19 AM.png

The Tweet Exchange Between Football Fan Groups. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

There is no doubt that Turkey is going through a tough time and that society has become fragmented beyond belief. The hurt caused by this fragmentation is expressed well by a user of the internet community eksisozluk which shows the sociological and psychological damage that the behavior of Mr. Dilmen and other celebrities has caused. The user şükela wrote a heartfelt piece outlining his disappointment at Mr. Dilmen’s decision. In the piece the user notes how, as a free floating hopeless 17 year-old adrift in the world of industrial society while working with his uncle, his only love—his only hope—was his football team, Fenerbahce. He recalls listening to a match on the radio and crying when he heard that his hero, Mr Dilmen, had been injured: “I remember sitting and silently crying as I hopelessly tried to cling to life at only seventeen because Ridvan [Dilmen] was the defining symbol of the only branch I clung to, Fenerbahce (olduğum yerde sessizce ağladığımı hatırlıyorum, daha on yedi yaşında umutsuz bir şekilde hayatta kalmaya çalışırken, tutunduğum tek dal olan fenerbahçe’nin biricik sembolüydü çünkü rıdvan)”. The user goes on to say “it is now clear that you have long ago forgotten the country that made you you, and this community [of Fenerbahce]. Good luck, but as someone from Kadikoy [the neighborhood Fenerbahce is in] I’d like to remind you that the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Fenerbahce will endure and last forever [but] you destroyed your chance to be an honorable soldier for both of these republics tonight with your own hands (ama anlaşılan o ki; sen çoktan seni sen yapan bu ülkeden, bu camiadan vazgeçmişsin, yolun açık olsun, ama bir kadıköy’lü olarak hatırlatmak isterim ki; türkiye cumhuriyeti de fenerbahçe cumhuriyeti de ilelebet payidar kalacaktır, sen bu iki cumhuriyetin de bir neferi, şerefli bir askeri olma şansını bu akşam kendi ellerinde yok ettin). ”

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 3.40.27 AM.png

 Graffito Tweeted By Fenerbahce Fan Group Sol Acik Reads “In Izmir We Say Sunflower Seeds are Cigdem [A Local Word Referring To Sunflower Seeds In The Aegean City Of Izmir] And Say No To A Presidential System” [Author’s Note: This Is A Very Difficult Passage To Translate On Short Notice Since It Is Very Culturally Specific So The English Is Much Longer Than The Turkish, I Apologize To The Readers]. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

The words of this anonymous individual show how shocking it can be when your childhood hero turns his back on not just his football team, but also his country. Consumed by the desire for money Mr. Dilmen—as well as Arda Turan and Burak Yilmaz—have decided to abandon their personal morals and values as well as their country; they have become “one-dimensional men”. It is disappointing to see but we must remember that it is symptomatic of a modern industrial society consumed by extreme capitalism. I say NO to industrial football, NO to extreme capitalism, and NO to globalization. I am sure you can infer my position on Mr. Erdogan’s presidential system as well…!

 

Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg.png

A Touch Of Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

Turkish Football Unites a Country in the Face of Terrorism

3 Comments

The day after a violent attack outside of Besiktas’s Vodafone Arena left more than forty dead and dozens injured, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility. As I wrote earlier, the attack can be seen as a threat from Kurdish separatists who have been emboldened by the deepening crisis in Syria. In such a divisive environment, with emotions running high and hope running low, it was refreshing to see that sports could—even in a country where it more often divides than unites—bring people together.

Cumhuriyet newspaper wrote a moving piece entitled “The Line Between Life and Death Outside the Stadium”, remembering the victims of the attack, including the stadium’s head of security Vefa Karakurdu and stadium store employee Tunc Uncu—a young man who paid the ultimate price for doing his job: selling football shirts. The Besiktas club chose to cancel the season tickets for their cup match on Wednesday, announcing that all proceeds would go to the victim’s families, while club president Fikret Orman reminded everyone that “No one has the strength to divide this country”.

On Monday night, 12 December 2016, Besiktas’s main fan group Carsi will begin a march to the stadium at 19:03 (7:03pm) with the slogan “[This] neighborhood is ours, [this] country is ours, [this] love is ours”. Here, the football fans are using their role as an important actor in Turkish civil society, doing what the current government has failed to do—unite people regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, behind a common national cause. In a country where democratic institutions have been constantly weakened, organic social movements like these are essential. As their post reads, they aim to do it “without separating anyone” and “without saying young or old, male or female, me or you”. They have invited all fan groups to join them, shoulder to shoulder, and I hope for a massive turnout. In this case, sport has the potential to unite people behind the common cause of the country—not the arbitrary divisions of ethnic background that drove the TAK to carry out such a disgusting attack.

carsi.jpg

Carsi Do Their Civic Duty. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/spor/643766/cArsi__Besiktas_ta_patlamanin_oldugu_yere_yuruyecek__Semt_bizim__ask_bizim.html

 

The fact that this attack has even brought fans from bitter rivals Bursaspor and Besiktas together shows that, even in the darkest of times, there can be something positive. If it wasn’t the case life wouldn’t be worth living; another example of how football is our live in microcosm. Bursaspor fan Çağıl Alperen Çörten told his friend’s story on social media: Mr. Çörten’s friend had tucked his Green and White Bursaspor scarf into his jacket on the way to his sister’s house, when the bomb went off. As he took shelter in the chaos, he hadn’t realized that his scarf had been revealed. It didn’t matter; Besiktas fans took the Bursaspor fan to safety, fed him, and got him to his sister’s safely. One Bursaspor fan group Tweeted that “Bursa is ours, Besiktas is ours. The country is above all else. We thank Besiktas fans for their thoughts, terror has no color”. This latter point is important; the “color” can be interpreted both in football terms but also in ethnic terms.

 

_111481452877.jpg

_111481452862.jpg

_5123.jpg

Bitter Rivals Re-Unite In The Face Of a Graver Danger. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643770/Sosyal_medyanin_konustugu_paylasim___BJK_dusmaligi_benim_icin_bitmistir_.html

 

Another important development is that the police—criticized for their heavy-handed tactics during Gezi—have been embraced by the people once more. The young officers who died are just human beings like the rest of us, tools in a bureaucratic system that they likely cannot fathom. As in the United States, it is important to understand that law enforcement does not always mean to repress, and that all police are not the same. There are good and bad officers of the law, just as there are good and bad people. Galatasaray’s Twitter page reminded us that we need to stand together; recognizing that the good people in life must stick together is the first step in actually standing together.

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 12.42.42 PM.png

Galatasaray Send a Good Message: https://twitter.com/Galatasaray/status/807983178677948416/photo/1

 

When Galatasaray footballer Selcuk Inan was called to the stands by fans, he made the unprecedented move of bringing a police officer with him.

selcek.jpg

Selcuk Inan’s Unprecedented Move. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643816/Selcuk_inan__Elim_ayagim_bosaldi_.html

5085994.jpg

Selcuk Inan Is Not Alone During His Long Walk. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/galatasarayli-taraftarlardan-polislere-moral-destegi-1266770

 

In football culture, the police are often seen as the enemy; any football fan can tell you that ACAB means “All Cops Are Bastards”. In this case the fans didn’t agree, chanting for the police, and Mr. Inan ended up calling his trip to the stands “the longest distance of my life”.

5085992.jpg

Galatasaray Fans Voice Their Support For Police Officers Outside The Turk Telekom Arena. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/galatasarayli-taraftarlardan-polislere-moral-destegi-1266770

 

Moved by Mr. Inan’s long walk, Yasin Oztekin took another unprecedented step—he celebrated his goal with…police officers, while footballers did the same in an amateur match elsewhere in Turkey (http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643694/Golu_atti…_Polislere_kostu_.html . This display of unity was moving, and shows that the only division that matters—at least to me—is the one between good and bad people, kind and cruel people.

 

5086003.jpg

A Moving Moment. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/yasin-oztekin-az-kalsin-aglayacaktim-1266774

 

The tale of two football coach’s response to this tragedy is telling in this respect. In the wake of the attack Romanian coach Marius Şumudica, who had recently agreed to coach Turkish side Gaziantepspor, backed out. Following the attack Mr. Şumudica re-signed with his team in Romania just hours after bidding his players farewell, saying “I wouldn’t go to Turkey [even] if I got one million Euros a month”. While Mr. Şumudica cannot be faulted for fearing for his life, it wasn’t the most professional of responses. Contrast this with former Besiktas coach Slaven Bilic’s response. Now at West Ham United, Slaven Bilic is one of my favorite figures in the sports world. After his team’s draw with Liverpool, Mr. Bilic had this to say:

“I would like to dedicate these points to people in Turkey because we were there for two years, me and my staff, and they are following us big time. I feel for them, my prayers are for them, it’s unbelievable what happened there. I was all around the world, working or on holiday, and they are maybe the best people I ever met. So it’s very sad what’s happening in one of the best cities and one of the best countries…not because of the nature of the country but because of the people. They are so friendly, so good, so warm and everything, that it’s basically tearing me apart what’s happening there. Big condolences for the families of the victims.”

 

Liverpool-v-West-Ham-United-Premier-League.jpg

Slaven Bilic, One Of My Favorite Figures In World Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/slaven-bilic-dedicates-west-ham-9439540

 

I could not have said it better myself. The Turkish people are certainly some of the warmest and kindest people that I have ever met, and I know for a fact that the way they treat foreign guests is amazing. I know it from the way my American father fell in love with the country, I know it from my own experiences. This is why we must—as humans—separate the governments from the people. I might not agree with what the Turkish government does, but I know that the people are not the government.

This is why the divisions in the United States are to troubling—one might not think the same way as someone else politically but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t like them as a person. On the flight from Miami to Istanbul a few days ago I spoke with a former U.S. Marine of Palestinian descent who told me “I am Palestinian, like you are Turkish. I feel Palestinian, like you feel Turkish. But I am also an American just like you are an American. I don’t believe in attacking foreign countries, but if America comes under attack at home I will defend my country”. This is the kind of sentiment that I agree with, and that is why I find the situation in both Turkey and the United States so troubling. The divisions perpetuated by governments—whether between ethnic Kurds and ethnic Turks or African-Americans and White Americans, the GLBT community and the straight community or males and females—do not help anyone. The globalizing world has tried to deepen these divisions, weakening the nation state in an attempt to reduce humanity to one history-less mass; one whose only values lie in consumption. The nation-state does not have to be a force of fascist notions of superiority, it can also be one that unites people of all backgrounds under common human values. Unfortunately, it is when we blindly allow governments and politics to dictate our values, without questioning anything, that we face a grave danger.

Update to a Previous Piece: The Link Between Football and Human Trafficking

Leave a comment

A recent BBC piece, dated 29 November 2016, (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38129536 examines the plight of African footballers. The BBC reports that:

The International Federation of Professional Footballers (Fifpro), a trade union of sorts, has conducted a global survey of nearly 14,000 professional footballers in 54 countries – the largest ever undertaken.

Over 3,000 of the players who took part in the survey are from 13 African countries: Botswana, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

Results of the survey show that African footballers are victims of physical abuse (including sexual abuse), poor pay, and almost non-existent job security. Football is a part of the global economy, one that separates the global North from the global South. In this exchange it is inevitably the global South that gets exploited, and this is why the issue of African footballers needs to be addressed. Some people might not have agreed with my earlier post, explaining why human trafficking affects (male) African footballers and (female) eastern-European sex workers alike, but this recent survey might change some minds. I hope it does, since the BBC released a similar story about African football and trafficking in 2011 which—judging by the current state of affairs—was mere lip service; nothing has changed in five years. Only our awareness to current events can “change” things, not the promises of corporate or political leaders.

_56061982_football_generic.jpg

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/15296412

Live by the Sword, Die By the Sword: Globalization, Sports, and Media in Turkey

2 Comments

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.

Manchester-United.jpg

PAY-GALATASARAY-vs-MANCHESTER-UNITED.jpg

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.

Industrial Football May Have Soured Turkish Fans On the Eve of Eskisehirspor’s Unveiling of New Stadium

Leave a comment

Ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, Turkish media published a story on 28 October 2016 about a man going out of his way to make home feel like “home” for his team. Ali Erginer, a fan of Turkish Second Division side Eskisehirspor, answered a social media call to help prepare his side’s new stadium before opening day on Sunday 30 October. Mr. Erginer said he responded to a call on social media for fans of the team to assist the municipality’s workers, who were understaffed, with preparing the stadium for its first match. Mr. Erginer said that he expected 100-200 people to help with the preparations—or at least 50—but ended up being the only fan to answer the social media call.

58131c2567b0a92fc8a54ce1.jpg

58131c2867b0a92fc8a54ce3.jpg

Mr. Erginer Cuts a Lonely Figure. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.mynet.com/futbol/ptt-1-lig/102480-eskisehir-stadi-icin-cagrilara-sadece-o-yanit-verdi.html

In the age of social media—where even a simple cat video can go viral in minutes—it is surprising that only Mr. Erginer should come out to prepare his team’s new stadium; indeed if this were a story about anything else I would have been suspicious as to its veracity. Given the political nature of stadium construction in Turkey, however, I can see why Mr. Erginer might have been the only one willing to volunteer his time. As Christopher Gaffney writes in his eminently readable study of stadia Temples of the Earthbound Gods, “at the local level, stadiums are monuments, places for community interaction, repositories of collective memory, loci of strong identities, sites for ritualized conflict, political battlefields, and nodes in global systems of sport” (Gaffney 2008, 4). Given the importance of the stadium to local community and culture, it is not surprising that a fan would want to help prepare one for its opening; what is surprising, however, is that a single fan should want to help. And this is where we visit another of Gaffney’s observations, that “stadiums are sites and symbols of power, identity, and meaning that allow us to enter and interpret the cultural landscape through a common medium” (Ibid., 24).

Eskisehir’s old stadium, built in 1965, was the Ataturk Stadium named after Turkey’s founding father. The new stadium may not be named after the nation’s founding father, since those in power realize that—in Gaffney’s words—the stadium is “a symbol of power [and] identity”. An opposition MP wanted the new stadium to be called the “Yeni Ataturk Stadyumu” (New Ataturk Stadium) but, as of this weekend, media stories are calling it just the “Yeni Eskisehir Stadyumu” (New Eskisehir Stadium). Regardless of what happens with the name, even by attempting to take the name away—and certainly in taking the stadium away—from the fans a new identity can be fostered for subsequent generations; this does not mean that this new identity will be accepted by all fans, and that fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to show up to prepare the stadium for its grand opening is telling.

eskisehir-ataturk-stadi-16-10.jpgOut With the Old. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2016/10/16/eskisehirde-bir-tarih-kapandi-539577/

Even if the fans have a grievance with the renaming of the stadium, they—as true fans who have an attachment to the stadium if only because of its role as “repository of collective memory”—should be expected to support the new stadium, right? Perhaps—but that would depend in part, of course, on the motives of the capitalist entrepreneur(s) at the helm who pushed for the construction of the new stadium itself. Indeed after the last match was played in the old stadium fans got together and a banner was put up in the (empty) stadium reading “Separation Shouldn’t Be Like This”.

eskisehirspor-yarim-asirlik-evine-galibiyetle-8864924_300.jpg.png

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eskisehirspor-yarim-asirlik-evine-galibiyetle-veda-8864924-haberi/

The team’s (old) stadium has been closed for the first four weeks of the season following events that took place on the final day of last season, when Eskisehir fans burned down part of the Ataturk Stadium. For a few stories on this one can visit Sports Illustrated‘s  heavily biased piece that cites—of all things—Russia Today. The media in the United States only saw the fan violence on a surface level, a visceral paroxysm of rage because the team had been relegated. Knowing the passions in Turkish football, I have no doubt that emotions played a part in the inferno. But I think there were deeper concerns that the likes of Sports Illustrated could never hope to understand.

5737fb74c46188f7788b457c.jpg

The Final Match Attended by Fans at the Old Eskisehir Ataturk Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.rt.com/sport/343071-turkey-football-stadium-fire/

It is also possible that the fans were angry that their home was being taken from them, and that pushed them to violence. Judging by the fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to answer the social media call suggests that some fans are not happy with the erasure of the past resulting from the construction of a new stadium. Industrial football—like the capitalism that finances it—has a way of erasing (and even re-writing) history to suit current needs. The closure of the Eskisehir Ataturk stadium—and its replacement with a modern, state-of-the-art facility—is just the latest chapter in a trend that is unfolding throughout Turkish (and indeed world) football.

5071297.jpg

The New Digs. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/10/28/eskisehirspor-bandirmaspor-maci-ankara-da-oynanacak-1259526

Author’s Note: The opening of the stadium was ultimately delayed, with this weekend’s match taking place in Ankara’s Osmanli Stadium.

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

Leave a comment

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.

nintchdbpict000268668639.jpg

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/

_87933820_messicomparison.jpg

_88438946_messi_boy.jpg

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.

Older Entries