A Short Discussion on Women in Turkish Society: How Sport Can Mirror Other Developments in the Social World

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On 12 September 2016, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, a woman was assaulted on a public bus in Istanbul for wearing shorts. Hurriyet Daily News reported that “An unidentified man at the back of the bus initially shouted ‘those who wear shorts must die,’ before physically attacking and kicking her in the face and shouting ‘you are a devil.’”  This is, of course, disturbing news for anyone who cares about Turkish society.

The alleged attacker, Abdullah Çakıroğlu, was at first released but—after the uproar it caused in the country—was re-arrested on 19 September on charges of “inciting animosity”. Mr. Çakıroğlu’s testimony in itself is chilling, and tells the story of a deeply divided society:

People can embrace others’ faith but they cannot ignore it. Everything has a proper way. Had she dressed properly, we would not have acted that way. If people wear pants or at least a tracksuit, we would be less aroused […] When I turned my head to the left, I saw a woman opposite of my seat. She wore shorts and was sitting in an obscene way with her legs sideways. She was staring at me with an obtrusive look. I lost myself in an instant. I thought she disregarded the values of our country and society and she did not show respect for herself and the people around her with her clothing style. My spiritual side took over and I kicked her in the face.

With a spiritual side like that, it’s a wonder that French Sociologist Emile Durkheim was able to say that religion could hold society together by fostering a sense of shared values, but that is beside the point. In response to this deplorable assault, the Turkish Justice Ministry introduced a new law on 19 September; “those who commit intentional offences against the physical integrity of another person will be able to be arrested with the ministry’s draft law” and such assaults will carry a penalty of up to two years in prison. While this is a good development (insofar as it will mean punishment for similar attacks in the future), it is important to note that women face maltreatment in many other public realms as well.


The Attacker Is In Custody. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/i-would-be-less-aroused-if-she-had-worn-pants-says-man-who-attacked-woman-for-wearing-shorts-in-istanbul.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104087&NewsCatID=509

A good example of this in the sports world came in December of 2014, when then coach of Osmanlispor Osman Ozkoylu took offense to a journalist at a post-game press conference. After Mr. Ozkoylu complained about refereeing decisions that went against his team, he responded to a female journalist who, apparently, laughed at him. Perhaps unable to stomach the slight—especially coming from a female—Mr. Ozkoylu lost his cool and had to be restrained by security guards as he confronted her. Video of the confrontation can be seen in the earlier link, as well as from a different angle in this Youtube clip. A female anchor for Turkish news channel NTV couldn’t even bring herself to utter the coach’s full name when reporting on the confrontation. The interesting point to note here, above all else, is that Mr. Ozkoylu (at the time) did not seem to find anything wrong with confronting a female in this manner. Of course, Turkish football is no stranger to such controversies. In 2012 we also saw current Elazigspor coach Umit Ozat say—on live television—that “women did not understand football as well as men”. Ironically, Mr. Ozat would hire a female as an assistant coach two years later.


Mr. Ozat and his assistant, Duygu Erdogan. Image Courtesy of: http://www.star.com.tr/spor/umit-ozat-kadinlar-futboldan-anlamaz-demisti-ama-haber-956761/

Interestingly, the connection between women and gender roles regarding sports in the Middle East has garnered attention for the wrong reasons elsewhere as well, where patriarchal values again came to the fore. After it was revealed in 2014 that Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun posed naked for a photoshoot on the ski slopes, it prompted Lebanon’s Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami to call for an investigation into the photos to ensure ‘the protection of Lebanon’s reputation’. Just as Mr. Çakıroğlu found it his responsibility to police a woman’s morals on a bus, and as Mr. Ozkoylu found it his responsibility to respond to a perceived slight by a female journalist, then Mr. Karami found it his responsibility to defend his country’s “reputation”.


Can’t We All Just Get Along? After All, Ms. Chamoun Rocks Lebanese Nationalism Well on the Slopes. Image Courtesy of http://www.aboutleb.com/lebanon-news/228/topless-skier-jackie-chamoun-the-least-of-lebanons

The concept of “honor” and “reputation” can sometimes be closely related to the perceived “normal” gender roles that are supposed to be reflected in society. In all the instances I have mentioned, the individual reactions stem from a tendency to follow the the societal models of gender identity; when it is perceived that they are not being followed it prompts a reaction. The female is supposed to “dress modestly” when in public and certainly not pose for (half) naked pictures, just as the female is not supposed to ridicule the man in public and the female is not supposed to discuss things—like football—that are outside of their typical sphere of knowledge (again, a sphere defined by culture). Ultimately, this represents another way in which developments in the wider social world are sometimes mirrored in the sports world; sports can offer another angle from which we can look at different societies.

Turkey Decides Against Turning Back the Clocks, But What About the UEFA Champions League? The Relationship Between Politics and Culture

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On 7 September 2016 the Turkish cabinet decided to observe Daylight Savings Time (DST) year round, and the clocks will not be turning back on 30 October. I will let the Hurriyet Daily News explain:

Before this newly introduced practice, Turkey was acting in accordance with European countries regarding the practice’s [Daylight Savings Time] beginning and ending dates. The decision means that Turkey will be three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter as well as summer and two hours ahead of continental Europe in winter.

Personally, I have no qualms with this issue since I believe that the United States should follow this practice as well. After all, the days after the time change—in both Autumn and Spring—are often deadly. Time Magazine notes that DST can be dangerous. Time quotes Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington Law Professor who studies DST polices:

More people are active during the evening, including kids, and the additional sunlight that DST provides helps provide drivers with the visibility necessary to see pedestrians. “At 5 pm virtually everyone in society is awake,” he [Mr. Calandrillo] said. “There are far more people asleep at 7 in the morning than at 7 in the evening.”

Time adds that:

Adding an hour of sunlight in the evening year-round would save the lives of more than 170 pedestrians annually, according to a 2004 study in Accident Analysis and Prevention. The lives of nearly 200 vehicle occupants would also theoretically be saved by the change.

Others note that “the Monday following the start of daylight saving time (DST) is a particularly bad one for heart attacks, traffic accidents, workplace injuries and accidental deaths.” In fact, there is a twenty-five percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday after DST starts compared to a normal Monday, while

a researcher from the University of British Columbia who analyzed three years of data on U.S. fatalities reported that accidental deaths of any kind are more likely in the days following a spring forward. Their 1996 analysis showed a 6.5 percent increase, which meant that about 200 more accidental deaths occurred immediately after the start of DST than would typically occur in a given period of the same length.

According to data presented in one article in the Los Angeles Times, staying on DST year-round would mean “195 fewer drivers and passengers and 171 fewer pedestrians would die each year.” Indeed, a New York City news station says “A study analyzing a decade’s worth of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System showed a 17-percent increase in traffic fatalities on the Monday after clocks spring forward”. This is certainly food for thought.

Meanwhile in Turkey (and the ethnically divided island of Cyprus) there have been negative reactions to the decision, which I also understand. Commentator Ismet Berkan notes that (and I must admit he has a point): “In Istanbul, in winter months, the sun will rise around 7:30 a.m. Besides the unpleasantness of waking up in the dark, we may even leave the house in the dark.” No one likes getting up in the dark—after all, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the unpleasantness of joining the rat race—and this is something I can sympathize with. Another issue, that Zulfikar Dogan makes clear in his column for Al-Monitor, is that the decision to make DST permanent might be influenced by a desire to become closer to the Arab states:

Opponents claim there are religious motives behind the decision. Turkey will now be in the same time zone with Saudi Arabia and most Middle Eastern and Islamic countries. Theologians have been constantly bickering over prayer times, Ramadan hours, and the beginning and end of Eid holidays. With the new arrangement, prayer times will be the same as in Mecca and Medina. There were also objections that the real intention of the change is to distance Turkey from Europe. Some critics even said Turkey’s switch to Saudi time might well be a prelude to changing Turkey’s weekend to Fridays instead of Sundays.

Aside from the economic concerns—being on the same time as Europe helps businesses, after all—Mr. Dogan brings up another interesting point: the cultural dimension of sports may be one segment of society that will be most affected:

The decree will really shake up sports schedules. The European football body UEFA starts Champions’ League games at 9:45 p.m. and European League [UEFA Europa League] games at 8 p.m. and 10:05 p.m. With the new hours, Turkish teams will be starting their games at 10:45 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11:05 p.m. local time. Games will end at midnight or in the early hours of the next morning. In major cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, fans won’t be able to return home before 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.

The fact that Turkey’s membership in UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) is in itself rooted in geopolitics (like Israel’s membership in UEFA) makes this development especially interesting. In order to tie Turkey to the West during the Cold War, the country was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on 18 February 1952 and, two years later, it became a member of UEFA after the football governing body was formed in 1954. As is the case with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), another intergovernmental organization, many of the republics of the former Soviet Union joined UEFA immediately after the demise of the USSR. These kinds of international bodies—whether focused on military power (like NATO), or soft power (like UEFA)—help to form the definition of a country and “where it stands”, so to speak, culturally. Is it European, a member of the West? Or is it, instead, an “eastern” and culturally “othered” state? The decision to change Turkey’s time, in many ways, affects this relationship with Europe in the realm of “soft power”.

Whether Turkey’s decision to stay on DST year-round was rooted in science or politics, it is important to realize the role of culture in relation to politics. Since the UEFA Champions League represents an important part of Turkey’s relationship to Europe—allowing Turkish football teams (and by extension, Turkish society) a chance to compete with Europe—distancing the country from the competition may well serve political motives. We shall see what happens in time (pardon the pun), but the important thing to recognize is that culture—and sport is a big part of culture—can often be used as political tool, and the modern nation state is not oblivious to it.

Hello Kitty and Fenerbahce: Gender and Consumerism in Turkish Football

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On 8 September 2016 Turkish football giants Fenerbahce announced a sponsorship deal with Japanese company Sanrio’s most famous character, Hello Kitty. In an official speech introducing the new agreement, the General Manager of the team’s Fenerium stores, Mümtaz Karakaya, framed the business partnership as one that aims to attract a certain fan demographic:

 Değerli konuklar, hepimizin de bildiği gibi Fenerbahçe’miz sadece erkeklere ait bir spor kulübü değildir. En az erkekler kadar kadınlar, kız ve erkek çocukları da kulübümüzün birer parçasıdır.

“Dear guests, as we all know Fenerbahce is not a sports club that belongs only to men. Women, girls, and boys are—as much as men—all a part of our club”.


An Unlikely Partnership. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972


Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim and His Family Share a Moment With What Apparently is Not a Cat. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972

To prove his point, Mr. Karakaya recalled a match on 20 September 2011 when, due to the team’s punishment, Fenerbahce played in front of a stadium full of 55,000 fans; only females and children under 12 were allowed in. In recognition of this unprecedented game, the club has celebrated 20 September of each year as the “International Day for Women’s Fenerbahce Fans”. Clearly businessmen weren’t the only ones delighted by this PR work, with Fenerbahce player Jozef de Souza noting that “This is also a good partnership for fathers like us. We can present these products [Hello Kitty products] to our children and see their happiness”. Of course they can “show their happiness”, mainly because happiness for children means material goods in this day and age. But Mr. de Souza implies he irecognizes that this partnership can also be seen as making Turkish football more family friendly, which is—of course—a positive development.


Fenerbahce’s Female Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2015/09/20/dunya-fenerbahceli-kadinlar-gunu-kutlandi-621460

In choosing to use Hello Kitty’s cat/girl (which is apparently not a cat at all, bizarrely) in football, however, Fenerbahce are not alone. In March of 2015 Italy’s famous AC Milan inked a similar deal—note the male figure as a devil in contrast to the female figure of the Hello Kitty, which is ironic seeing as how Hello Kitty was once rumored to be—of all things—an homage to the devil. It might be a move on the part of the club to distance themselves from the “femaleness” of the Hello Kitty image; as Bleacher Report reminded us AC Milan fans didn’t know what to do with a sponsor that is “not exactly the most ‘macho’ option out there”. On social media sites, it is clear that while Fenerbahce fans don’t really know how to respond either, fans of their rivals certainly do.


Boys and Girls in Milan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/kits/210668/ac-milan-announce-exciting-new-partnership-deal-with-hello-kitty.html

Football fan culture is a male dominated one all over the world and Turkey is no exception to this. One small example will suffice: While fans of Besiktas take pride in saying “A man doesn’t support a team with colors” (their colors are black and white; Fenerbahce’s are Navy and Yellow and Galatasaray’s red and yellow), Galatasaray fans respond with “A man doesn’t support a team with wings” (an uncouth reference to pads, since Besiktas are known as “the black eagles” and Fenerbahce “the yellow canaries” while Galatasaray are “the lions”). With fandom being so closely related to masculinity, it seems inevitable that social media was flooded with images poking fun at Fenerbahce’s new sponsor. I have chosen some to share below:

Some images, like this one of a pink bus, feminize the entire team.


The caption reads “Fenerbahce’s 2016-2017 Team Bus”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/4

Another image portrays the team and its players in a child-like light.


Robin Van Persie’s Lonely Walk. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10

This image taken from a match of a masculine human canary–with the banner reading “The Boss Of Europe”–loses (all) of its “oomph” when the Hello Kitty face is plastered over it.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10

Other posts poke fun at specific players. The most common target is their sexuality:


Fenerbahce’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat may be reconsidering his decision to come to Istanbul after this unflattering image came out. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23


Here we have Fenerbahce’s much-maligned goalkeeper Volkan Demirel (Left) and Robin Van Persie (Right). They are portrayed as modeling the team’s new jerseys–Home on the left, Away on the right. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23

Because Mr. Demirel is a favorite target of opposing fans, he was the focus for many of the jokes going around social media. Below are two other examples:


Here Mr. Demirel is portrayed in a pink Hello Kitty car with the caption “Should I pick you up from home my looooove?”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/25


And here we have a despondent Mr. Demirel, looking frustrated after conceding a goal. A pink bow is photoshopped onto his head with the caption “Hasan Ali, you never come back on defense…” This is a reference to Fenerbahce defender Hasan Ali Kaldirim; the message, however, implies something about the goalkeeper’s sexuality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/31

While the sponsorship deal clearly lends itself to ridicule in a sport geared towards the male viewer, it was a female actress—Selin Sekerci—who got the flack for a Tweet poking fun at the sponsorship agreement (she subsequently had to apologize).


Im Sure Ms. Sekerci Was Surprised at the Response to Her Tweet From Irate Fenerbahce Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/selin-sekerci-fenerbahcelilerden-fenerbahce-2307764-skorerhaber/

I mention this to show that the kinds of jokes floating around social media, although playing at gender and sexuality, are not only being made by male fans. To discuss online reactions to the sponsorship deal solely in terms of misogyny and sexism may miss the point. It is the mindset of industrial football that made the Fenerbahce brass think that this was a good idea (keep in mind, AC Milan themselves were hard pressed for a sponsor before they reached an agreement with Hello Kitty). When money becomes the guiding factor in football—and not the game—we end up with awkward situations like this one, where a brand represented by a cartoon image of a British girl (NOT cat!) dominates the football headlines.When this happens it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it will result in many (sometimes tasteless) jokes, either.

From Women’s Volleyball Uniforms to Colin Kaepernick: The Manufactured Divisions In Society As Seen Through Sports


I was attending a Gender Sociology seminar at the University of Florida and the conversation turned—of all things—to the uniforms worn by the American Women’s Volleyball team at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since I am more of a soccer fan I had not seen the uniforms in question at the time, but judging by some of the rhetoric in the class room I assumed they must have been quite offensive. In reality, they look like anything any person would be likely to see in any beach town in the United States. Essentially the uniform is a swimsuit, or a bikini.

The “Uni” In Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

My first reaction to the comments in the class was that “sex sells”. In our modern society where instant gratification is all that matters it seems that the amount of skin shown is directly proportionate to the amount of money made. Just as industrial football in soccer is a commodification of sport, then these uniforms can—in some way—be seen as a form of commodification of sport as well; they might be using physical beauty to sell sport. Which—while not my cup of tea—is in line with capitalism. One need only look at the pictures of soccer stars David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo to see that such cynical marketing affects men as well as women.


Becks As a Sex Symbol. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.enstarz.com/articles/5367/20120815/david-beckham-underwear-ad-soccer-star-shows-off-body-in-latest-h-m-shoot-photos.htm

Marxist theory itself underlines that the development of capitalism changed the gender roles of men and women; as society shifted from the traditional to the modern egalitarian gender roles began to fade. Gender scholar Cecilia Ridgeway, writing in her book Framed by Gender (2011), explains that:

Under conditions of greater social and material resources, however, the desperate interdependence between the sexes is lessened somewhat, and the egalitarian balance between gendered spheres of influence might be difficult to sustain. With more available resources, the risk is greater that one sex will gain greater access to these resources, creating a tipping factor that consolidates specific gender status beliefs into a diffuse status belief that broadly advantages that sex over the other (Ridgeway 2011, 51).

Interestingly, the discussion about the volleyball uniforms was not in these terms. Instead it was seen as some sort of male dominance that made the women wear the uniforms; the prevailing opinion was that the Olympians were being made into sex objects. This made me curious, and I decided to look into the matter a little more. Many commentators mentioned the controversy over the uniforms, while the Washington Post wrote a strange opinion piece blasting the “scant gender parity” while praising Egypt’s choice of uniforms  (which to me is like comparing apples and oranges, but that is for another day).


Egypt’s More Modest Uniforms. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

What seems to be lost in much of the discussion, however, is the voice of the players themselves. It is easy to approach the topic with pre-existing biases and opinions, but to ignore conflicting points of view is no way to debate a controversial topic. One CBS story for instance, noted that women’s volleyball players have a choice of uniforms while men have no choice:

The women actually have a choice of what to wear while the men only have one option. The women can either wear a two-piece bikini, or they can wear a one-piece suit. The sport did used to only have the option of bikinis for women, but they changed the rule in 2012 be be more inclusive to other cultures and religions. The men only have one option: a tank top and shorts.

American star Kerri Walsh Jennings took to Twitter to reject the notion that the players were wearing bikinis to get better TV ratings. A useful piece by the Independent Journal Review gave reasons for why the U.S. women’s volleyball team continues competing in bikinis, using quotes from the players themselves. Misty May-Treanor, a gold medalist, said it simply in an interview with Slate: “We’re staying in our [bikinis]. I don’t see too many people changing. To each his own. If you get down to it, it’s about the sport and not what we’re wearing.” And that is precisely the argument that I make. By lowering the debate to such a base level and focusing on what women are wearing when playing volleyball it ignores what is really going on, you miss the focus on the sport and athletes involved. In order for true “equality” to exist people—male or female—should be scrutinized for their athletic prowess, not on what they are wearing. These kinds of debates, rather than furthering a “progressive” agenda (to use the term that is currently in vogue) in society, actually serve to be more regressive. Another example from the sports world can be given.

When the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers (an American football team), Colin Kaepernick, chose not to stand during the American national anthem before a preseason game in protest of racism, his actions elicited varied responses from all over the social spectrum. The president of the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colorped People) went so far as to compare him to Rosa Parks. Although I’m not sure how Ms. Parks would have viewed this comparison, it certainly shows how important people perceive Mr. Kaepernick’s actions to be, and players from other teams are planning to take part in other “demonstrations”.


Colin Kaepernick. Image Courtesy of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/49ers/2016/09/07/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest/89975464/

Unfortunately, it seems that—as with the women’s volleyball uniforms—things like this tend to increase, rather than decrease, the divide between different people. If it isn’t men and women being divided, then here it becomes blacks and whites.

Former NFL player Ray Lewis made a good point (albeit one that the author of the article, Will Brinson, doesn’t agree with) that the issue with Mr. Kaepernick’s protest is his focus on the flag. Mr Lewis said: “Listen I understand what you’re trying to do, but understand, take the flag out of it. I have uncles, I’ve got brothers, going into the military, that said I will never see you again. To understand that I will always respect that part of what our patriotism should be.” Focusing on the flag itself clouds the issue, and in a different way than Mr. Brinson would have you believe. He writes: “People yelling about whether protests should include the flag or feature the national anthem or whether a certain day is acceptable for protesting only cloud the waters further.” The flag is, for many, a symbol of unity—that we are all Americans. For others, it is a sign of Police brutality and even systemic racism. I understand that. But by focusing on the flag Mr. Kaepernick has made a lot of people upset—his own actions have led to the very “clouding of the waters” that Mr. Brinson blames not on the quarterback, but on his detractors instead. The perceived disrespect towards the flag and national anthem doesn’t solve the problems of racism in the United States; rather it just polarizes people further.

And we can see that in the attacks made on Mr. Kaepernick. There have been claims that his girlfriend, a Muslim, influenced him to protest social injustice. Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to focus on the flag has brought other issues out now that go way beyond the purpose of his original protest, in this case those of Islamophobia and gender equality. But his original message is lost. It is the “progressiveness” that sows division and—ironically—actually makes society regress.

This climate of racial division has led California State-Los Angeles University (CSLA) to debut segregated housing which will, among other things, “serve as a safe space for Black CSLA students to congregate, connect, and learn from each other” according to a list of demands from the CSLA Black Student Union. The freshman in the dorm are wary of calling it “segregation”, but the fact remains that Dr. Martin Luther King fought against the very concepts of “separate but equal” that CSLA’s policy represents! And sadly…other places are doing the same. The University of Connecticut will also have segregated housing this fall, while Oregon State and UC Berkeley are also sponsoring segregated events in what The Federalist rightly point out stems from a “far-Left [that] has found itself championing a toxic form of second-wave segregationism than only exacerbates division”. Even liberal civil rights leaders in the United States spoke against CSLA’s decision.

It is my hope that people stop focusing on differences so much that it stops them from seeing the similarities. People should not focus on the uniforms of the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team to the extent that it overshadows their play; by creating a controversy out of nothing (the players seemed to take no issue with their uniforms), we end up doing the very thing we intended not to do: focusing on these women because of their gender. They are volleyball players, just like a male volleyball player. Focus on them for what they do in sports, not for what they wear. In the same vein, Mr. Kaepernick should not focus on the American flag when he makes his protest to the extent that people forget about his initial protest—it is about race relations, not about nationalism. If he wants true equality in the United States of America, he should know that it will not come by antagonizing those who believe that the flag (and anthem) hold real, emotional, meanings. Respect is a two-way street. A perceived insult to the flag overshadows—for others—the very things Mr. Kaepernick is protesting against and that creates even more of a splintering within society. Black or White, Male or Female, Christian or Muslim, people are people. By creating artificial divisions in society problems will not be solved. Rather, they will be exacerbated to the point that, fifty years on, segregation returns. It is a chilling reminder that blind “progressiveness” can have its unintended “blowback”; by not listening to the opposing sides in society we risk finding ourselves in an intractable situation that will only unravel further, like yarn on a spool.

I’m Experiencing the Dystopia of an American Airport While American Olympic Athletes Distort Reality in Rio: What it Says About Wider U.S. Society’s Interactions With the World

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A few weeks ago I was returning from Turkey to the United States via Germany. I didn’t mind the eight-hour layover since it meant that I could drop into one of my favorite cities in the world, Munich, and have a relaxing summer stroll around the city. When I got to the border of the European Union I handed my passport and boarding pass to the police officer on duty. He took a look at the boarding pass and reminded me that I had a connecting flight in eight hours. I assured him that I was well aware of that, and that I was only going to take the train into the city for a few hours. He looked at the pages of my passport and just shrugged (probably thinking “this guy won’t miss his flight”); then he stamped me in and handed back the passport and boarding pass with a smile. And that was that. No elaborate questioning, just two people interacting.

I got a day ticket for 13.75 Euros and took the S1, getting off at Moosach. Since I am interested in seeing the famed Munich Olympiastadion, built for the 1972 Summer games, I head in the direction of the Olympic Park. The wide tree lined streets which feel like a mix between central and eastern Europe are peaceful and I take in my surroundings, my last tastes of Europe before returning to the United States. It is one of those times where the traveler thinks “what would my life have been like if I grew up here?”

The Olympic park is off the main street and when I finally enter it feels like a secret garden. The rolling hills and small pond make for an idyllic setting, one of those that could only be on the “old continent”. I hike up the tallest of the park’s hills and, at the top, am rewarded with a stunning view of urban Munich on the one side and natural Munich on the other. The day is calm and peaceful, August in Germany, and I feel as if my senses have been heightened by virtue of these few moments in this small pastoral greenery in the middle of Bavaria. I decide to grab an 11am beer at a beer garden—one of those things that would be impossible to do across the Atlantic—and think about my route to the center; after all no trip will be complete without a few jerseys.




Beautiful Park, and the Beautiful Munich Olympiastadion. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Among the tourist hordes in central Munich I find a couple shirts from last season on deep discount—a Puma Borussia Dortmund shirt and Kappa Wolfsburg shirt. For lunch I head to one of the Turkish kebab places in the red light district by the Hauptbanhof; to my surprise the man behind the counter speaks Turkish to everyone in line except me (I am spoken to in German—guess I’m not Turkish looking enough). I eat my doner and watch a group of Turkish construction workers come in for their lunch, like the Mexican construction workers at the Mexican restaurants I would frequent in Texas. I can’t help but think how strange it is that societies get stratified like this, cheap labor from abroad creates a social hierarchy based on ethnicity—the economic system comes to define the ethnic group and create a new social reality where none existed before. Knowing its nothing I will change, I go back to my doner—the must-try snack of Germany that has overtaken the traditional German snack of bratwurst as the nation’s most popular fast food. Of course, the popularity of the street food itself shows how the imagined ethnic hierarchy can take on a mind of its own.



The Shirts Spread Out on the Counter at a Munich Airport Bar. Because…I wanted to. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Back at the airport I myself get stratified into another kind of imagined hierarchy, this one based not on ethnic background but on nationality. I take the long trek to gates H43 through H48 at the Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport. It feels like a Japanese death march, the long grey nondescript corridor leading to the special zone of the terminal where flights to the United States depart from. At the ID check kiosk I ask the man if there is anything beyond me—I do it every year, just hoping—praying—that it will change. But it never does. “Just a vending machine. And toilets. There is no restaurant or bar”. Since the disappointment on my face is noticeable, the gentleman levels with me: “I’ll give you the stamp—you have a while until boarding, it won’t board on time. Go back to one of the bars and when you come back just show your stamp and walk to the gate”. I thank him for being a human being and head to the convenience store for a Lowenbrau to pass the time. Its 3.25 Euros, and the lady accepts the 3.20 Euros I give her.


Its a Lonely Walk to the End of the Line. Image Courtesy of the Author.

When I enter the boarding area at Gate H45 it feels like I have entered another world. Indeed, there is nothing to eat save for what one can scrounge from the vending machine with their left over Euros. My fellow Americans count their (Euro) pennies to perhaps purchase a small bag of potato chips as sustenance before boarding. There are not enough seats to accommodate all the passengers bound for a transatlantic flight so everyone stands around like refugees awaiting their departure to a new future. In the bathroom, the paper towel dispenser is broken and it is clear that the single rest room cannot possible satisfy the demand of four gates worth of passengers. I marvel at the chaos all around me that marks my trip to the United States, sequestered in a small corner of one of the world’s most modern airports. When I ask why we are sequestered as such, a Lufthansa employee tells me that it is for “security”. I can only nod, finding myself wishing I was back in the Olympic park taking in the fresh air of Munich instead.



The Toilets Have Seen Better Days While We Stand Like Refugees. Images Courtesy of the Author.

After an eight-hour flight full of romantic comedies I find myself waiting in line for one hour at the Boston Logan International Airport. U.S. citizens are left in a hallway, being let inside to the main “processing area” in fifteen person groups. I marvel at the tight security—certainly the tightest I have seen on my journeys over the past summer. “These guys are crazy” mutters the gentleman in front of me, an Italian-American, and we begin talking. I find it amusing that entering countries in Europe rarely necessitates as much song and dance as entering the United States—my own country of residence and birthdoes. The man uses the word “dystopia” to describe the proceedings and I have to admit that its an apt description.

As the “cowboys” of U.S. Customs & Border Patrol “herd” me into the “processing area” where I wait to use one of the automated self processing passport scanners, I wonder how efficient this system is. While the process to enter the United States at airports is one of the most draconian I have ever experienced on my travels, the Mexican border is still porous and many Americans are up in arms when talk is made about increasing security on a border that has become so world famous that even people from as far as Africa are flocking to it. The man in front of me is as frustrated as I am when he mumbles “I don’t think they even catch anyone”. I have to agree—the police state mentality only exists in the world of airports, a realm that is dis-engaged from life on the ground outside. It’s a sort of nether region between the Orwelllian world and the real world. But it is also this emphasis on “security” that allows the United States to portray itself as an oasis of stability in a world rapidly becoming characterized by seemingly random outbursts of violence; it is a city on a hill while chaos swirls below. And that is where I now move into discussing this in the context of the sports world.

On 14 August 2016 four members of the U.S. Olympic men’s swimming team accused Brazilian police of robbing them at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro when they were returning from a party. American Olympians Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen claimed that their taxi was stopped by people posing as police officers and that money and personal belongings were demanded from them. The state media organ of the United States, the New York Times, was quick to frame the story as one reflective of security concerns in the Brazilian city when they wrote that the robbery heightened “anxiety over violent crime in the host city of the Summer Games” in the article’s opening paragraph. It is not surprising that the New York Times was quick to denounce Brazil and play up its instability, but they may be regretting their decision now.

Four days later, on 18 August 2016, it emerged that the swimmers had actually fabricated the whole story. In fact, if it was just a mere fabrication it might not have been so bad; instead it was an outright lie trying to cover up the fact that the swimmers themselves had been the ones in the wrong. They allegedly urinated on the wall of a Shell gas station, then vandalized the bathroom in a drunken rage and refused to pay for the damages. Mr. Lochte himself then claimed that he mistook the gas station’s security guard for local police—something I might have believed had I been born yesterday.

Police in Rio didn’t believe it either and charged Mr. Lochte with filing a false robbery report, and the swimmer was forced to admit that he “over-exaggerated” parts of the story which, I imagine, is the politically correct way of saying “I lied through my teeth”. On 19 August 2016 Mr. Lochte wrote on his Instagram (the post-modern form of apologizing, in which the most crucial part—looking the one you offended in the eye while asking forgiveness—is impossible): “It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” For some reason, his defense hinges on his being in “a foreign country with a language barrier”; in Mr. Lochte’s mind this simple fact exonerates him for vandalizing someone else’s property. In all honesty it is an embarrassing defense, but one that cannot be separated from the situation perpetuated, in part, by the United States itself.

Take this small excerpt from ABC News’ 30 August 2016 story as an example:

“I think it’s everyone blowing this way out of proportion. I think that’s what happened,” Lochte, 32, said today on “Good Morning America” when asked whether he embarrassed the United States with his actions in Rio de Janeiro.

“Like I said, I did lie about that one part,” Lochte said of his claim that a gun was held to his head at a Rio gas station. “I take full responsibility. I’m human. I made a mistake. A very big mistake.”

Here Mr. Lochte is still downplaying his actions when he says it was “blown out of proportion”, and when he does admit lying it is only about “that one part”, the gravity of the situation—that there is a larger lie that is insulting to another country—is missed. Even when admitting responsibility, it is only on an individual level. “I take full responsibility”. ”I’m human”. “I made a mistake”. Of course, this focus on the individual can be traced back to the American ideals of individualism and “freedom”. But don’t think that Brazilians aren’t, rightly I may add, a bit perturbed. In a 18 August 2016 New York Times story Brian Winter, vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, tells the truth in no uncertain terms: “[The episode] has tapped into one of Brazilians’ biggest pet peeves — gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it”. Although Eliseu Padilha, the chief of staff for Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, said that “This episode will not in any way interfere in the relations between the U.S. and Brazil . . . This could have happened with individuals of any other nationality,” I do not believe it. I’m not convinced that it could happen with individuals of any other nationality.

And this is where I return to the immigration line at Boston’s Logan International Airport. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to visit many interesting international (and domestic) destinations around the globe, something that I owe my parents a huge thank you for encouraging no matter the destination. Therefore, I have been able to see that all is not what it may seem. Of course the United States is a safe, stable, country. Of course in the United States things run fairly smoothly and with (comparably) minor disruptions when compared to some other places in the world. But—and this is important—that does not mean the United States is without its flaws, and it does not mean that other countries do not have their positive sides as well. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you can commit a crime in a foreign country—like vandalism—and expect not to be held accountable for it. Like the golden rule in life, doing unto others as you would want done unto you, there is the golden rule of travel: Do not do in foreign country what you would not do in your own country and expect to not face the consequences.

Too often in the United States we hear about “how bad it is over there”. “There” can be anywhere. It can be Mexico when we hear about the drug cartels. It can be the UK when we hear about the Brexit. It can be Africa when we hear about Ebola. It can be Greece when we hear about the financial crisis. It was Turkey when my neighbor, having heard the news about the 2013 Gezi Park protests, told me “I heard its really bad there”. Unfortunately, the judging that is implicit in such comments comes without any real knowledge of the situation. Just like the reporting done by the state media organ The New York Times, which rushed to emphasize security concerns in Brazil following the first reports of the swimmers’ “robbery” so as to frame the swimmers as innocent victims, U.S. newspapers are often all-too-quick to frame events taking place in foreign countries. (Note the use of the term “state media”—you might hear it mentioned in many publications in the United States, but never in reference to domestic media. This is an example of that framing). And, given that just 35% percent (a generous figure) of Americans have passports, many Americans are unable to visit places to see the truth for themselves. Although the number of passports in circulation is increasing, I tend to believe this is more due to the increased global interconnectedness of the world that necessitates a passport—if only for one trip—that then stays in circulation albeit unused. I even have friends who have passports but have never used them.

It is this combination—the desire to portray the United States as somehow above the fray of the world and the population’s relative ignorance of international affairs—that creates a dystopian reality at airports. It is also one that, unfortunately, sometimes results in people acting out and confirming the image of the “ugly American” abroad that is already present in people’s minds. Perhaps the most absurd thing about the whole incident is that Mr. Lochte really didn’t face any repercussions for his actions. Instead, he was handed a role on the reality TV show Dancing With the Stars. Only in America can you embarrass yourself, your team-mates, and your country and…be given a role on TV in the end. Life—and the American Dream—go on.

Football Diplomacy Between Turkey and Russia: Lessons From the Past

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On 31 August 2016 the national football teams of Turkey and Russia met in the southern Turkish city of Antalya for a friendly match ahead of the first qualifiers for the 2020 World Cup. Both Turkish and Russian media framed the match as a sign of improving diplomatic relations between the traditional geopolitical rivals. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly going to be invited to the event, Russian news agency Tass published a rather curt item stating that Mr. Putin would not be attending.

Mr. Putin’s decision to not attend the friendly match—which, by the way, ended in a 0-0 draw—may not mean that this installment of “football diplomacy” has necessarily failed but it is worth looking at Turkey’s past forays into sports diplomacy for context. Despite the fact that the relationship between the two countries is much better than during the last meeting between Turkish and Russian teams, when Lokomotiv Moscow faced Fenerbahce Istanbul last February, Turkey’s previous experiences in this field didn’t go quite according to plan.


Two Football Loving Leaders. Russia’s Vladimir Putin (L) and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) Both Enjoy Their Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.turkiyehabermerkezi.com/eu/images/haberler/2016/07/turkey_hosts_russia_for_first_friendly_match_h2407_b9392.jpg

Back in 2008, Turkey’s then-president Abdullah Gul accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Serge Sarkisian to attend a world cup qualifier in the Armenian capital Yerevan. It was the first visit to Armenia by a Turkish head of state and even the visa controls were waived for visiting Turkish fans. These, of course, were heady times for Turkish foreign policy, and the desire to emulate the ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s was running high in both countries. Writing in 2010, the Economist was correct in noting that the normalization of relations between the two countries—and the resultant opening of the borders—would take a long time.



Sarkisian (L) and Gul (R) Cheer On Their Countries (Top). A Nice Sight: Large Armenian Flag Side By Side With Turkish Flags at Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium (Bottom). Both Images Courtesy Of: http://www.worldsoccer.com/features/footballs-greatest-rivalries-turkey-v-armenia-366683

Six years on, the hopes born out of the so-called “football diplomacy” are dead in the water, and an Armenian commentator writing in 2015 went so far as to call current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “The Football Player Who Killed ‘Football Diplomacy’” . Later in 2014, with Mr. Gul out as President, the hopes for any rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia fell by the wayside even though this failure was most likely not the fault of individual leaders. The limits of football diplomacy were uncovered when realist geopolitics—driven by nationalist hard-liners on both sides—pressured their respective leaders to back down from normalization.

The story of one Armenian footballer, Aras Ozbiliz, is indicative of the failure of “football diplomacy” on the individual level as well. The 25 year old footballer was born in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy district to Armenian parents, where he lived until emigrating to the Netherlands in the mid 1990s. There he joined Ajax Amsterdam’s youth team, quickly moving up the ranks. Although eligible for the Dutch national team Mr. Ozbiliz chose to play for Armenia and, after receiving citizenship in 2011, made his debut for the Caucasus republic in 2012 in a match against Canada. In 2015 while at Russian side Spartak Moscow he allegedly had a rift with Turkish/Swiss coach Murat Yakin, whom Mr. Ozbiliz claimed left him out of the team due to his Armenian heritage (this claim was later denied by the player himself), but it meant that he was no longer wanted in Moscow. His landing place, after a circuitous route around Europe, was his birth city of Istanbul and Besiktas. After signing a 4.5 year contract in January 2016, the Turkish-Armenian lawmaker Selina Dogan wrote on her Facebook page that she hoped the player’s transfer would “strengthen ties between Armenian and Turkish societies.”.


Ozbiliz In Action for Spartak. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.rferl.org/content/armenian-soccer-player-turkey-besiktas/27513271.html

Unfortunately these ties have yet to be strengthened, both on and off the field. Thankfully Mr. Ozbiliz has not been in the headlines for the wrong reasons (likely because he has only appeared in one match for Besiktas so far), and he doesn’t look to be featuring soon; Ozbiliz was left out of Besiktas’ Champions League roster. Meanwhile, off the pitch, a group of Turkish nationalists attempted to march on the German consulate in June 2016 after Germany’s decision to term the 1918 evens “genocide” (a decision the Germans have since been going back on). In an ugly display, the marchers chanted “the best Armenian is a dead Armenian” proving that these old hatreds cannot be plastered over with a few football matches. Since this post is not about Turkish-Armenian relations per se, I will not go into the depths of a (borderline irrational) hatred that certain segments of both countries have for one another (after all, I will never forget the unbelievable fact that an Armenian-American once brandished a knife at me in high school solely due to my being half-Turkish), but I believe that such nationalist paroxysms do reflect the limits of sports diplomacy.

Even though we want to believe that sports can transcend difference and emphasize the commonalities we all share, it is a fact that realist geopolitics is a strong force. Unfortunately, old animosities die hard and sport can just as easily open old wounds (as we saw during the Serbia-Albania match in October 2014) as it can (at least try) to heal them (as we saw with South Africa’s rugby team after the end of apartheid). We will see if the recent rapprochement between Russia and Turkey that was reflected on the soccer pitch will survive the test of time given new developments such as Turkey’s recent incursion into Syrian territory in a bid to secure the southern border. Personally, I root for sports-related diplomacy to be successful regardless of the context; realistically, I know its limitations all too well.