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Champions League Fans Targeted in Nigerian Bombing: A Reminder That Security Forces Worldwide Should Be Wary of World Cup Related Violence This Summer

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Scanning the football news I came across a report of a bombing in the Nigerian city of Jos, which targeted football fans watching the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid May 24th at a viewing party. At least three people were reported to have been killed, and the number would have been much greater if the (allegedly) suicide bomber had detonated his bomb at the correct time and place. According to Chris Olakpe, the commissioner of police for Plateau state, the bomb “exploded before the viewing centre because of pressure from local youths and the alertness of the local people”.

While Nigeria is no stranger to violence—just four days earlier, on May 20, twin car bomb explosions killed at least 118 people in Jos— this event is particularly worrying in light of the upcoming World Cup (which Nigeria will be competing in Group F along with Messi’s Argentina).

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been suspected in both recent attacks, and has been suspected in previous football-related violence as well. Please see this passage from the Agence France-Presse item appearing on Yahoo News:

 

Last month, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, northeast Yobe state, and shot dead two people showing the two Champions League quarter-final matches.

Police at the time did not directly blame Boko Haram for the attack but the group has been known for preaching against football as part of its agenda to impose strict Islamic law in northern Nigeria.

 In several video clips, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion.

 

It would behoove security forces in not only Nigeria but across the world to ensure that security is tight at all open viewing areas. I myself attended a viewing party in Berlin during the 2010 World Cup and can attest that the atmosphere is certainly electric—but it is also chaotic:

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Security forces the world over should be on their guard at all times. Major sporting events have always been conspicuous soft targets for attacks, but such attacks tend to occur in the home country (the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta is an example). With the World Cup being a truly global event that brings large numbers of people out to watch even in countries that did not qualify, the number of targets grows, and the festive atmosphere serves to provide cover for those with destructive plans. Just because a country is not hosting the tournament does not necessarily mean that it won’t be a target for smaller-scale attacks.

I urge football fans everywhere to keep an eye out for suspicious activities wherever you may be watching this summer, and wish you a safe and enjoyable World Cup 2016.

 

The Scene After the Car Bombing in Jos (Image Courtesy of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/46-dead-in-suspected-boko-haram-twin-car-bomb-attack-in-jos-nigeria-9406229.html)

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The Turkish National Football Team Visits Soma on 19 Mayis, the Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports Holiday

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On May 19, the Turkish Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports holiday (which remembers Ataturk’s landing at Samsun and start of the Turkish war of independence), members of Turkey’s national football team visited Soma to pay respects to the miners that lost their lives in Turkey’s worst industrial accident. In Soma the players and coaches visited the graves of the miners, solemnly laying flowers down, before taking part in afternoon prayers. Although Turkey’s team won’t be appearing in the World Cup, this appearance was just as—if not more—important for a football-crazed nation.

Many footballers spoke, including Galatasaray forward Burak Yilmaz who made clear that the visit “is not just for show, we are here because we truly felt this pain also.” Then came a grave speech (taken from both Sporx.com’s piece and from Milliyet.com’s piece. Interestingly, Hurriyet.com’s piece had no mention of the comments below:

Bu sefer ateş düştüğü yeri değil düşmediği yeri de yaktı. Herkes yandı. İnsan hayatına biraz daha fazla önem vermemiz gerektiği aşikar. Böyle günlerde değil, bu ülke her zaman bir ve birlik olmaya alışkın bir ülkedir. Bu refleksimizi kazanmak zorundayız. Böyle acılar vesile olmadan da birarada olmalıyız. Acılarımızı biraz olsun dindirebilirmiyiz diye geldik. Ama tüm heyet de acılı olarak dönüyoruz. Ateş düştüğü yeri değil düşmediği yeri de yaktı.

“This time the fire didn’t just burn where it fell, it burned where it didn’t fall as well. Everyone burned. After coming here we can feel that. That we need to give more importance to human life is clear as day. This country is used to being together, and not only on days like this one. We need to achieve this reflex. We need to be together without [needing] tragic events like this one to spark it. We came to see if our pain could be abated, as little as it might be. But the whole group is returning in pain. The fire didn’t just burn where it fell, it burned where it didn’t fall as well.

These were not the words of a politician. They certainly weren’t the words of the Prime Minister, which came a few days ago. These were the words of Turkey’s national football coach, a career football man who smoothly transformed from player to coach. These are the words of Fatih Terim. While I—like many Galatasaray fans—have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Terim (he can in many instances be too crude), here—in this instance—I have to commend him for a job well done. If there is to be anything taken away from the Soma tragedy it is that, in Turkey, more importance must be given to human life everyday. That is what will truly help Turkey move forward in the world, both politically and culturally.

The job of recognizing and stating that fact, however, should not have to fall on football coach. It should come from the country’s leader instead. Abdullah Gul, the president, has been very sympathetic to families of the victims. But the leader—and his aides, for that matter—have not had the same response. A well-publicized photo of Prime Minister Erdogan’s aide Yusuf Yerkel (a former PHD student, no less) kicking a protester who is pinned down by soldiers has already made its rounds.

Also, a recent video of Prime Minister Erdogan calling a protestor “Israil dölü”—literally, “Israeli Semen”—is beyond explanation. Video of the disgusting incident can be seen here, courtesy of an opposition newspaper’s website. Subsequently, the Turkish foreign ministry has categorically denied that such things were said and so far only a few Jewish specific news outlets have reported this event in English. I should hope that the denial is truthful—videos and their audio can be doctored, and we should never immediately believe that everything we see is real in the digital age. But, for me, the real issue is that a democratically elected Prime Minister should be as level-headed and calm as possible under pressure—it would do a lot to prevent such negative publicity, regardless of veracity. And it would also help if the Prime Minister of a modern democratic country could say half the things said by the football coach of a modern democratic country.

19 Mayısınızı Gönülden Kutluyorum.

 

Members of Turkey’s National Football Team Pay Their Respects. Mr. Terim is in the Foreground, in a Blue Blazer:

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Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26445283.asp%20

 

You Are Supposed to Kick the Ball, Not a Defenseless Human Being Mr. Yerkel!

Yusuf Yerkel

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/15/turkey-mine-disaster-aid-pm-pictures-kicking-protester

Football Clubs Continue to Respond to the Soma Mine Disaster in Turkey as the Government Weighs In

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Since news of the Soma mine disaster broke last night there have been many responses, both from football clubs and from government officials in Turkey. Sadly, the latter have been less than encouraging. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had an opportunity to win over his detractors by taking a conciliatory tone in the wake of disaster. Unfortunately he decided to stick with his harsh and unrelenting rhetoric, which does not bode well for the country’s future.

As the death toll rose to 274—the biggest industrial disaster in Turkish history–Erdogan made his move in an interview with the Soma municipality. Perhaps, in fact, Reuters wrote it best:

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he [Erdogan] said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.

Reel off he did. Hurriyet.com carried the Turkish version here from which I got the italicized portions below. His comments were, frankly, embarrassing. A sampling is below, taken from what I assume to be the interview with reporters at the Soma Municipality (so as to excuse the grammatical errors even in the Hurriyet transcript):

The video is here starting from 14:00:

 

İngiltere’de geçmişe gidiyorum, 1862 bu madende göçük 204 kişi ölmüş. 1866 361 kişi ölmüş İngiltere. İngiltere’de 1894 patlama 290. Fransa’ya geliyorum 1906 dünya tarihinin en ölümlü ikinci kazası 1099. Daha yakın dönemlere geleyim diyorum, Japonya 1914’de 687. Çin 1942, gaz ve kömür karışmanın neden olduğu sayılıyor ölüm sayısı 1549.

 Değerli arkadaşlar yine Çin’de 1960 metan gazı patlaması 684. Ve Japonya’da 1963’te yine kömür tozu patlaması 458. Hindistan 375. 1975’te metan gazı alev aldı, maden çatısı çöktü ve 372. Bu ocakların bu noktada bu tür kazaları sürekli olan şeyler.

Bakın Amerika. Teknolojisiyle her şeyiyle. 1907’de 361.

My translation:

I go to the past in England. 1862 in a mine there was a cave in 204 people died. [In] 1866 361 people died [in] England. In England in 1894 [there was an] explosion 290 [died]. I’m coming to France, [in] 1906 [was] world history’s second most deadly accident, 1099 [died]. I say we should come to more recent history, in Japan in 1914 687 [died]. China 1942, because gas and coal mixed the death count was 1549.

My dear friends again in China in 1960 a methane gas explosion caused 684 [deaths]. And in Japan in 1963 again a coal dust explosion [caused] 458 [deaths]. In India 375 [deaths]. In 1975 methane gas caught fire, the roof of the mine collapsed and 372 [died]. In these places in coal mines these kinds of accidents are things that constantly happen.

Look [at] America. With its technology [and] everything. In 1907 361 [died].

 

I can only shake my head. I don’t need to go into the details of the history of Turkish industrial accidents—Reuters has that covered. But the fact that the leader of a country that is listed as one of the world’s leading economic powers—a founding member of the OECD and G20—should resort to statistics from two centuries ago is astounding. Does he mean to say Turkey is comparable to England in 1862 and the United States in 1907? This is an insult to the development Turkey has seen under the AKP and to its standing in the world today. Given these words, it does not surprise me that protests broke out across Turkey today . After all, this is symptomatic of the rampant privatization that has occurred under the AKP government—unions argue that “safety standards were not improved once formerly state-run facilities were leased to private companies”  (the mine in question in Soma is privately owned). Corruption isn’t only morally wrong, its dangerous.

I write this because I believe that Prime Minister Erdogan, as the leader of a democratic country, should have been more conciliatory in the wake of tragedy instead of dredging up numbers from the distant past in order to provide context for a terrible tragedy. That said, I prefer to let the dust settle and allow families time to grieve before pointing fingers of blame (even if the direction those fingers will point in is fairly obvious). With that, I present some heartwarming news from the football world, which Hurriyet.com has collected (http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26418723.asp and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26414735.asp ).

Many teams have started a #TribunHasilatlariSomaya campaign, and there have been many responses:

–       The proceeds from this week’s Kardemir Karabukspor match with Sivasspor will be donated to those affected by the tragedy.

–       The supporter groups of Ankaragucu—themselves a team formed by workers at a munitions plant during the Turkish war of independence—will donate money they collect to the families of those who lost their lives in Soma.

–       The proceeds from Besiktas’s match with Genclerbirligi will be donated to those affected by the tragedy.

–       Galatasaray will donate the proceeds from an upcoming friendly to the victims and their families as well.

–       Fenerbahce’s fans at 12 numara.org have also started a campaign to raise money to help those affected.

 

Also internationally Barcelona added their voice of support to Liverpool’s.

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From England (whose mining tragedies were listed by the Prime Minister) condolences came from Chelsea and Sheffield United.

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Schalke 04 from Germany, a miners club themselves (their nickname is Die Knappen—the Miners) from Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, added their voice as well in a meaningful show of solidarity.

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Respect to all these clubs for bringing international recognition to this tragedy that may well have repercussions for Turkish politics in the not so distant future.

Football Clubs React to Soma Mine Explosion in Turkey

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There are times that a nation turns its teary eyes in unison to disasters so horrific that it seems nothing else matters. Today is one of those days in Turkey. At the latest count at least 201 miners have been reported dead in a mine explosion in Soma, a city in Western Turkey’s Manisa province. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz (of cat fame) reported that of the 787 miners who had been inside (2 Kilometers—1.2 Miles—below the surface) at the time of the explosion, just 360 have been accounted for.

Days like this are also ones where sport can help bring people together in the face of tragedy, regardless of nationality. The major Turkish football clubs sent their condolences immediately and the most interesting message came from Liverpool FC in England. Following the Hillsborough disaster the team is no stranger to tragedy, and it is refreshing that the team should reach out to Turkey in a show of empathy. Turkish media reports that Liverpool’s official Facebook account posted this message of solidarity with the miners and their families (http://www.sporx.com/futbol/dunya/ingiltere/liverpool-acimizi-paylasti-SXHBQ385130SXQ and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26414735.asp)

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Liverpool FC-Turkey’s Twitter account showed a shortened version of the same message.

While it will take some time for things to settle in Turkey and for the blame game between the opposition and the ruling party to subside (since this kind of thing should never happen in a developed country where mining is so prevalent)—it is refreshing to see humanity at its best as reflected through football clubs. No matter where you live or how you live, human life matters.

Below is the amateur football team Soma Spor Kulubu’s website which today displays their badge on a coal black background. My thoughts and prayers go out to the miners and their families on this dark day. Herkese başsağlığı diliyorum.

yas

Courtesy of: http://www.somaspor.com

E-Ticketing Scheme Hits Roadblock in Turkey: What It Means For Turkey and Football

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On May 8th a court in Turkey decided to halt the new “Passolig” system “to avoid consumers being treated unjustly” according to a report in the Hurriyet Daily News. The new system had come into effect almost a month ago on April 15 and heralded an end to traditional paper tickets sold at ticket offices. Anyone who wanted to attend a match in either of Turkey’s top two divisions—the Spor Toto Super Lig and PTT First Division—had to get a card. At the time I was aghast. Having gone to many matches internationally I immediately thought of those like me—how would any foreign football fans get tickets?

The courts should be commended for making a decision that promotes both the health of Turkish civil society and Turkish democracy, not to mention Turkish football as a whole! After implementation the system led to drastically reduced attendances for Spor Toto Super Lig games. In fact, just one (1!) fan of Eskisehirspor acquired one of the new cards. Even when some clubs lowered ticket prices to just 1 Turkish Lira (0.47 USD, 0.35 EUR, 0.27 GBP) it failed to spark interest in the cards. This is mainly because in order to obtain the Passolig card it means providing a picture and personal information—which is written on the back. The card is basically a combination of an ID card and bank card (issued by MasterCard). The rather optimistic reasoning behind the need for personal information can be read as a poor attempt to justify the most blatant of moves to full-on Industrial Football:

 

PASSOLİG Card not only allows fans to safely enter stadiums without waiting in queues, but it also provides clubs a chance to know more about their fans and create new sources of income. Moreover, this card presents its users a wide range of shopping options with its widespread contracted merchants. Its personalized campaigns will both enrich and facilitate user’s lives.

PASSOLİG Credit Card, along with PASSOLİG Debit Card and PASSOLİG Cüzdan Pre-paid Card, are designed to meet all your needs.

 From: http://www.passolig.com.tr/sikca-sorulan-sorular

 

Of course, the football fans saw through this. The desire for personal information is not to create better understanding of consumers and their desires, it is more to curtail the actions of fans that the government sees as a subversive element. Over forty supporter groups signed a declaration saying “The e-ticket system does not only demote the concept of supporters to a customer, but it also files all our private data. The system aims to prevent supporters from organizing and is designed to demolish stadium culture and supporter identity.” One look at all the promotions available to Passolig card holders would support the idea that supporters are being relegated to the role of consumer and consumer alone. For now, the court’s decision is a small victory over the pervasive forces of Industrial Football. But that is not the only victory.

The simple fact that an NGO—the Supporters Rights Solidarity Center (Taraf-Der)—successfully applied to the consumers’ court is in itself a victory for Turkish civil society. Of course, when the first hearing of the case is heard September 25 we will see just how far-reaching this victory is. But it does ensure that the new season will start without the Passolig cards, and therefore certainly represents a victory.

One of the basic facets of a representative democracy (like Turkey) is respect for NGOs that represent the people—one need only look at the victories of the NAACP in the United States to understand this. This is the reason that this court decision should be heralded, especially if it leads to substantial changes in the Passolig card system next fall. While it is extremely difficult to predict how things will play out in the ever changing and extremely complicated halls of the Turkish justice system, I feel that the ultimate outcome of this case will provide a bellwether for the state of—and health of—Turkey’s democracy going forward. As Turkish football is an extremely profitable sector in the Turkish economy I hope that the judges treat this case with the importance it deserves.

 

Note: The statistics posted below are from Sendika.org, a socialist website that—in their own words—aims to “say hello to the proletariat and row against the neo-liberal tide”. With the disclaimer about the website’s politics out of the way, please see how the Passolig card system effected attendances for a few matches in its first weekend, the 30th week of the Turkish Spor Toto Superleague season. Personally I take these numbers with grain of salt, but they still give a good idea of the situation:

Kayseri Erciyesspor-Trabzonspor

Attendance: 11,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Elazigspor: 23.550

Akhisar Belediyespor-Kayserispor

Attendance: 1,100

Attendance for the previous home match against Eskisehirspor: 2,500

Gaziantepspor-Genclerbirligi

Attendance: 4,200

Attendance for the previous home match against Kasimpasaspor: 8,000

Bursaspor-Elazigspor

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Galatasaray: 23,500

Besiktas-Fenerbahce

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home derby against Galatasaray: 77,512

 

The stands at the Istanbul Ataturk Stadium were left empty during Besiktas’ match with city rivals Kasimpasaspor:

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/court-halts-controversial-football-e-ticketing-plan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66193&NewsCatID=362

 

Just 285 Passolig owners made the trip to watch Kayseri Erciyesspor face Trabzonspor at the Kadir Has Stadium in Kayseri. Along with 2000 season ticket holders (exempt from the Passolig Card system), it meant just 2,285 fans were in attendance.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.posta.com.tr/spor/HaberDetay/-Passolig–basladi-tribunler-bos-kaldi-.htm?ArticleID=224823

Fulham FC 2012-2013, Special Edition Shirt

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A great special edition Fulham FC shirt that I got for a very affordable price on clearance at the Fulham store inside Craven Cottage. The shirt itself is a classic Kappa Kombat design, sized extra-large (sizes run small). The reflective Fulham badge and Kappa logos add an interesting detail to this stunning all white shirt. While it is clearly not a traditional Fulham shirt, it is still an interesting piece of history from London’s oldest football club—after all, they were formed in 1879 in the London of the great American writer Henry James (a time that is now, sadly, long gone).

 

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AEK Athens 2006-2007, Away

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I wrote about AEK Athens earlier this year, as such it is fitting to put their shirt on this blog. I got it on my first visit to Thessaloniki in 2006, when I was—for some reason—unable to find either an Aris or PAOK shirt. The best part of this shirt to me is the Greek flag on the arm. It is a lightweight Adidas fabric sporting a design typical of the year, the LG and Diners Club sponsors are both printed on in a quality fashion. Once while wearing this shirt at home in Rhode Island someone called out to me in Greek. When I didn’t understand and told him I was part Turkish he just walked away—I suppose he didn’t understand the brotherhood that football is.

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