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Tensions Between the U.S. and Turkey Rise as Erdogan Attempts to Re-Brand Himself as a Nationalist: The View From the Football World

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On 27 January 2018 Voice of America reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was willing to risk a military confrontation with fellow NATO ally the United States in order to rid Turkey’s southern border of Kurdish YPG/PKK militants. While Turkey’s interest in the Syrian border has historical precedent since the region represents an area of crucial geopolitical interest to Turkey, the soundbite VOA chose to quote is an interesting one. According to the VOA article, “Erdogan has pledged to ‘crush anyone who opposes our [Turkey’s] nationalist struggle’.” Given the VOA’s framing of Turkey’s offensive in terms of “nationalism”—a term that has taken on a pejorative meaning in the West—it is useful to delve into this particular matter.

First of all, it is important to recognize that Mr. Erdogan is not a nationalist at all; rather his rhetoric is part of a wider re-branding strategy. That Mr. Erdogan is certainly not a nationalist was made clear last December during the opening of Trabzonspor’s brand new Akyazi stadium, an event that drew criticism from all walks of Turkish society. During the opening ceremony on 19 December 2016, four banners were hung from the stadium’s rafters. From right to left (and, ostensibly, in order of importance) the banners of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the current president of Turkey), the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Sani, and Binali Yildirim (the current prime minister of Turkey) were hung. Of course, the idea of the Qatari Emir’s poster appearing before a member of the Turkish government elicited criticism from many Turkish commentators. Yet, as if that was not enough, the Qatari national anthem was played before the Turkish national anthem at the opening. While Qatari involvement—and interest—in Turkish football is not unprecedented (indeed the Gulf state’s Qatar National Bank—QNB—is also Trabzonspor’s shirt sponsor), this degree of acquiescence to Qatari interests was unprecedented at the time. As commentators rightfully asked, “what was the Qatari Emir’s relationship to Turkish history”? In short, it is a manifestation of Qatari soft-power (and economic imperialism) through football. Turkey is effectively selling off its own infrastructure to Qatar, thereby succumbing to the rising tide of globalism, despite framing it as—alternatively—a Neo-Ottoman agenda or Turkish nationalist agenda. In reality, it is neither of these; it is merely a cynical attempt to attract foreign investment from a wealthy Gulf State.

 

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From Left to Right: The Turkish Flag, Turkey’s Founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Sami, and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/akyazi-stadinin-acilisinda-katar-emiri-al-saninin-posteri-asildi-katar-ulusal-marsi-calindi/

 

The reasons for Mr. Erdogan’s re-branding are complicated. It is both a response to the so-called “populist” turn in the United States (due to Donald Trump’s election) and the United Kingdom (due to Brexit), while also being a response to Mr. Erdogan’s failure to hide his own party’s corrupt globalist agenda (most recently revealed by disgraced Iranian trader Reza Zarrab). A third reason that Mr. Erdogan has had to re-brand himself is due to the stress created by the presence of a large Kurdish militant force on Turkey’s southern border; as a Turkish leader tasked with preserving Ataturk’s borders Mr. Erdogan cannot afford to lose an inch of Turkish territory.

While Mr. Erdogan is in a difficult position, sandwiched between the neoliberal globalism demanded by American (Western) interests and the mandate of Turkish nationalism bequeathed upon him by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the contradictory situation is one that reflects the contradictory nature of globalism itself. In the West, the ideology manifests itself as part of a utopic iteration of “progressive” politics. Yet—as the impasse in Syria shows—the globalist world is a world of war. While most progressives—and in fact many Americans—will tell you that the last World War ended in 1945, citizens of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Iraq (again), and Syria might tell you that they have lived through World War III in the past thirty years—the “globalist period” post 1991 have been characterized by the constant destabilization and ultimate disintegration of nation-states defined by strong statist governments.

Of course, it was American meddling that caused these destabilizations, coupled with the poisonous addition of identity politics. In Turkey’s case, the idea was certainly one “born” in the West; the carrot of European Union membership had been extended to Turkey if they would just extend more “rights” to their Kurdish minority. Here an article by an American academic who subscribes wholeheartedly to the poison of identity politics shows how real the problem is. While the author argues that “Turkish prejudice against the legitimacy of the Kurdish identity reminds one in some respects of the former prejudice against African-Americans in the United States”, it is clear that the author is only exemplifying the tendency of Western researchers to use Western discourse to dominate conversations in reference to non-Western areas; it is an example of the neo-colonialist nature of “progressive” academia in the West.

The end-result of this neo-colonialism and identity politics is, sadly, an attempt to divide Turkey. The case of Turkish footballer Deniz Naki is a great example of this division based on identity politics. Mr. Naki, a Turkish-German footballer of Kurdish descent who plays for Kurdish side Amedspor decided, on 28 January 2018, that he would not return to Turkey following an attack on his vehicle while in Germany. Following that decision, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) decided to hit him with a fine. On 30 January 2018 the disciplinary wing of the TFF hit Mr. Naki with a three year six month suspension; since the suspension was over three years it means a lifelong ban from Turkish football for the footballer. He was fined 72,000 USD for “separatist and ideological propaganda”, due to his sharing “a video on social media on Sunday calling for participation in a rally in the German city of Cologne to protest against Turkey’s military offensive into northern Syria’s Afrin region” according to Reuters. Another result of identity politics in Football means thatt Diyarbakirspor could return to the top flight soon,

 

 

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A Defiant Deniz Naki in Happier Times. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/spor/915063/PFDK___Turkiye_ye_donmeyecegim__diyen_Deniz_Naki_ye_ceza_verecek.html

 

Unfortunately, the ugly tentacles of identity politics extend from the globalist West to all corners of the world. Just like the United States, Turkey is unfortunately not immune to the divisiveness of identity politics. Despite Mr. Erdogan’s rebranding he is still a globalist at heart; after all, no true nationalist would have allowed the Syrian crisis to unravel the way it did on Turkey’s southern border, just like no true nationalist would have stoked the fires of identity politics and divided Turkey between ethnic Turks and ethnic Kurds. While Erdogan is trying to frame his actions in terms of nationalism, most observers of Turkish politics know that—due to historical constraints—Mr. Erdogan had little choice but to act on anything that threatens the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. That said—and despite everything—Turkey will survive this crisis like it has so many before. As Serif Mardin writes in State, Democracy, and The Military: Turkey in the 1980s, “there does exist an enduring populist, egalitarian, democratic strain in Turkish history which shows greater institutionalization than in other Middle Eastern countries and which has enabled this country to emerge from a series of soul-searching tests with pride” (Mardin 1988: 27).

As for the United States, they will survive this as well. As U.S. President Donald Trump said during his State of the Union Address, “the U.S. must give money to friends and not to enemies”. In return, then, the United States must be a friend to friends as well. By succumbing to the globalist logic, the United States has turned its back on too many “friends”. The presence of U.S. Troops on Turkey’s southern border—aiding Kurdish militants—does nothing for American national security, especially while the southern border of the U.S. with Mexico remains as porous as ever. The United States must return to being a republic, as its founding fathers envisioned it to be. Instead of wasting money in the Middle East, the U.S. would be much better off spending at home in order to improve infrastructure and address poverty within the country.

 

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U.S. Soldiers–and the U.S. Flag Should Be At Home, Not Dispersed All Over the World. Images Courtesy of: https://www.voanews.com/a/ergodan-says-he-is-ready-to-risk-confrontation-with-us/4227613.html

 

This is why the end of globalization—and its ideological brother, globalism—will mean an end to WWIII and a fairer, more peaceful world in the end. It is up to us as citizens, however, to demand that our leaders resist the temptations that the corruption of globalization offers. After all, it is a system that enriches a global class of super-rich on the backs of a world-wide working class.

 

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Globalization only seems to work if you’re part of the “super rich”; an alernative explanation has been chewing tobacco. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-story-of-globalization-in-1-graph/283342/
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The Grammys and the Pro Bowl: Two Cultural Spectacles Amidst the Attempted (Re)education of America

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Sometimes it feels as if the whole of American society is going through a sort of attempted re-education. I have already written about the sad state of American academia, yet the attempts at re-education are visible elsewhere as well. They are evident in attempts to re-write American history (also here), and they are apparent in the demonization of police and the rule of law. The common denominator in these attempts at re-education is their focus on division, rather than unity. Unfortunately, the culture industry is a major tool in this divisive re-education.

Sunday 28 January 2018 is a good example of how this divisive form of re-education takes place. On this Sunday there were two major events vying for airtime in the United States: the first was the NFL Pro Bowl, the all star celebration between the AFC and NFC; the second was the 60th annual Grammy awards. The solution was . . . playing the Pro Bowl in the afternoon so as to not compete with the prime time Grammys. Of course, that also meant playing the football game in conditions which, at times, bordered on monsoon level. Despite the hiccups, I can say that Pro Bowl 2018 was definitely a nice experience; I have no doubt that it was much more pleasant than the Grammys (to be discussed later).

The Pro Bowl is, admittedly, a manufactured experience, as SB Nation notes. It is, of course, a great example of the kind of commercialization of sport that the United States is famous for. Ironically, the Pro Bowl is American football without the violence that is so often criticized . . . which means that, in the end, no one watches it. The situation is emblematic of what might be American English’s few proverbs: you’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t. Despite the rampant commercialization, it was still a human experience. Like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ display of proper parenting on national TV (something that is usually missing in the United States, due to the demise of the concept of “family”), the Pro Bowl offered me many opportunities to interact with some amazing people.

 

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The Pro Bowl had its Human Side As Well at Camping World Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

It was nice to see fans from all over the United States, donning the jerseys of their favorite teams, who had come to one stadium to quite literally hang out. I met a few Manchester United fans visiting from England who were able to point out the absurdities of the US: “So…the drinking age is 21 but you can go off to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan at 18?” . . . “Yep” . . . “Wait . . . you can’t bet on sports in the United States?” . . . “Nope” . . . and I had to add that, yes, few American football stadiums have covered stands when most top level European football stadiums—even lower tier stadiums—have at least one covered stand. It is the absurdity of America, it is also the uniqueness of America—uncouth and immature as it may be. I met a Denver Broncos fan from Cleveland who lamented the financial mismanagement of some NFL players, who manage to blow through millions of dollars without realizing that their careers are, quite dependent, on their own ability to stay healthy. Despite the over-commodified nature of the Pro Bowl, it was clear that—in American society—we can come together when we need to in the name of sports. As my British friends pointed out, in Britain the site of so many different jerseys would be enough to start a brawl.

What is shocking is that Sunday’s second event, The Grammys, was so different. It started with U.S. President’s Twitter spat with rap artist Jay-Z, whose criticism of Mr. Trump was met with a response that the unemployment rate for black workers is the lowest in 45 years. Unfortunately for Jay-Z, this was not his only embarrassment—despite being the most nominated artist at the Grammys he went home empty handed. Yet this feud was just a prelude to what the Grammys would become—a political s***(side?) show as music artists gave their political opinions one after another (a run down, which I will not deign go into here, can be found here).

 

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A Pretty Funny Tweet; Also Interesting That a U.S. President is Actually Interacting with a Citizen. Sadly, such Alternative Interpretations are Missing From Mainstream Media Since They Don’t Fit the Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/01/28/trump-rips-jay-z-for-remarks-on-african-american-unemployment.html

 

The irony of it all was, of course, that hyper-commodified music had become hyper-politicized. This is one reason I do not listen to new music; in a bid to follow the logic of late stage capitalism—where profit is king—most music has come to sound the same. It is emblematic of a society that has killed creativity. But it also begs the question: Why do we care what billionaire celebrities in a music business, that is less art and more money, think about politics? The last time I checked, neither Jay Z or Bono had been reading the latest theories in political science or sociology. They are not “left” in any traditional sense of the word; indeed Karl Marx is likely spinning in his grave after Hillary Clinton’s appearance on stage.  And that is why a technocratic government, propped up by the propaganda of the culture industry, is a very dangerous thing indeed. We are swiftly becoming two Americas: One that cares about mass culture, and another that does not. In order to bridge this growing gap, however, we will need new minds that can transcend the one dimensional thought emanating from the culture industry and academia. We are still human beings with an ability to think independently; I would say it is high time we recognize it in order to resist this cultural (re)education.

FIFA Corruption: The Globalist Model for a Brave New “World Society”?

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I have written before about the theories regarding the U.S. government’s corruption case against FIFA, the governing body of world soccer. Although the U.S. attempt to clean up the game may have been positive, it is clear that there was also some geopolitical wrangling going on at the time.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama was not able to bring the World Cup to the United States because, ultimately, Qatar won the prize. Yet the fact that disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter recently admitted to calling Mr. Obama before the final decision was made public suggests that there was more that a little politics involved in FIFA’s “choice” to award the world’s most prestigious tournament to Qatar, itself a country with very little footballing history.

One of the themes emerging from Mr. Blatter’s revelations is just how deep the corruption goes—both financially and, unfortunately, politically. Mr. Blatter might have seen it as a purely financial transaction, which is to be expected in the era of industrial football: “America is very good for us [. . .] The sponsors, the broadcasters, the fans. It would help football there after 1994, almost 30 years, and that is good for football.” Here Mr. Blatter is merely invoking the logic of industrial football. Yet, somewhere along the line, politics got in the way. According to ESPN’s story, the former corrupt leader of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is “under investigation in his country for his part in the bid process. Blatter has previously alleged Sarkozy applied pressure on [UEFA President Michel] Platini to change his vote [on where the World Cup would go] in a meeting also attended by Qatar’s crown prince.” Why political leaders should get involved in a footballing decision is a question that all football fans should be asking.

As other media outlets have outlined, FIFA’s corruption is undeniable (here and here). It seems that, sometimes, the globalist logic is what runs world football: In a fake bid to create “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, world football has given the World Cup to an Arab country because it is “their turn”. For real football fans, however, the reality should be apparent: in order to line their pockets, many FIFA officials knew that they could take Qatar’s money while also looking like they were somehow contributing to the globalist zeitgeist of “multiculturalism” and the continual attempts at a global shift away from the “West’s” domination of the global culture industry. To put it bluntly, it is one of the most blatant marriages of football and politics in the history of the world—and on a global scale.

While the United States has wasted over 300 billion dollars in the Middle East between the end of WWII and 2010, it is clear that throwing money at the region solves nothing in terms of “bringing it in line” with the interests of global (and extreme) capitalism. It is also clear that Qatar is involved in their own attempts—perhaps sanctioned and even encouraged by the West, since Qatar is intimately tied to global financial flows—to achieve a regional hegemonic position in the Middle East. This has been most clearly evidenced by the country’s recent investments in Turkish sports and the political fall-out with regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (which have hitherto resisted the forces of extreme—Western style—capitalism). This is because the World Cup is an amazing coup for Qatar in terms of increasing their “soft-power” in the region while also cementing the country’s standing within the existing neoliberal order.

 

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Just Think About How Much of This Money Could Have Been Spent on Bettering the Lives of Both Americans And Middle Easterners? Perhaps Infrastructure Spending Vs. Meaningless Wars and Imperialism in the Name of Extreme Capitalism? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/us-aid-middle-east_n_3779275.html

 

Most importantly for football fans—and the average citizen all over the world—is that FIFA’s corruption shows clearly what a globalist regime in charge of the world would look like. This case highlights all of the dangers that a technocratic and bureaucratic ruling elite—on a global scale—would present to the world. This is because a globalist ruling class would:

 

  • Disguise corruption and increasing inequality as “equality”;
  • Further enrich the super-rich at the expense of the poor (Who is building Qatar’s stadiums?);
  • Inject itself into every aspect of our lives, controlling even our leisure time, a time that should be exempt from the concerns of economics and politics, in a crude attempt to regulate even our most basic human emotions, such as our support for sports.

 

Globalism (the ideology) and globalization (the process it supports) are both inherently corrupt and exploitative systems; it is up to us as citizens—of whatever country we live in—to hold our leaders accountable in order to resist it.

 

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Qatar’s Stadiums Under Construction. The Scene Reminds Me Of the Construction Workers in the Lego Movie (Itself a Criticism of Extreme Capitalism in the Modern World). Everything is Awesome (For Qatar, But Definitely Not For the Workers). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/world-cup-2022-qatars-workers-slaves-building-mausoleums-stadiums-modern-slavery-kafala-a7980816.html

Attendance Figures in the Last Matches of 2017 Reveal a Struggle Between Competing Visions for Turkish Society

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Attendance figures for the penultimate week of the first half of the 2017-2018 Turkish Super League varied greatly, and—according to data cited by Hurriyet—the the total attendance (minus season-ticket holders) of 72,453 paying fans for the 16th week fixtures represented the single biggest week of attendance in the Turkish Super League since the contraversial Passolig system was implemented. The previous record came in the 6th week of the 2017-18 season, when 55,248 fans purchased tickets. This means that the average attendance for the 16th week’s nine matches was almost 15,000 fans; a total of 130,920 fans (including season-ticket holders) attended the matches making for an average attendance of 14,546 fans league wide. While this is certainly an encouraging figure, showing that fans are still willing to attend matches despite the draconian form of social control that the Passolig system entails, a closer look at the individual attendance figures will show that the struggle for cultural hegemony is still ongoing in Turkish football.

As I noted above, attendance figures varied greatly. The highest attendance—33,027 fans—was seen for the match between traditional giants Fenerbahce and bottom-placed Kardemir Karabukspor. The lowest attendance was for the match between strugglers Genclerbirligi and Kasimpasaspor—the team from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neighborhood—which saw just 1,599 fans in attendance. The discrepancy here should not be surprising; the traditional giants of Turkish football—Besiktas, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahce—traditionally maintain high attendance figures. The “invented” teams, on the other hand—like Kasimpasaspor—and traditional minor teams that face financial struggles—like Genclerbirligi, founded in 1923—struggle to maintain high attendance figures. This trend was clearly visible in the 17th week, the final week of fixtures in the Turkish Super League’s first half.

According to date from Ajansspor.com, the traditional sides attracted a healthy number of fans. The contest between Galatasaray and Goztepe in Istanbul saw 45,809 fans in attendance, the match between Atiker Konyaspor and Fenerbahce attracted 20,458 fans in Konya, while Besiktas drew 16,173 fans (filling 87% of the stadium) when they visited Sivasspor. These strong attendance figures show that the traditional powers of Turkish football are still able to attract fans regardless of where they play. Unfortunately, these high attendance figures only tell half of the story. In fact, when we look at other teams, it is clear that local teams—as well as “invented’ teams—fail to draw fans.

The “derby” between teams from two neighboring provinces on the Turkish Riviera, Antalyaspor and Alanyaspor, attracted just 11,785 fans. Antalyaspor’s new stadium—built by the government—was 54% empty in what should have been a hotly contested derby. And while Antalya failed to fill their stadium they still attracted over 10,000 fans, because they actually have fans (the team has played in the top flight of Turkish football for the better part of the last three decades), other teams were not so lucky. Contrast the attendance in Antalya with the attendance for the match between Kasimpasaspor and Basaksehirspor. Normally a city derby—between two neighborhood teams—would draw a large crowd. Especially when one of the teams involved, Basaksehirspor, is topping the table. Yet, in a city of over 15 million people, only 2,265 Istanbullu fans attended the Istanbul “derby”. It is in this match that one can see just how “invented” Istanbul’s new teams are; neither of them have fans or any real football culture. That one of the teams in question should be topping the table—yet not even draw 3,000 fans in a city with a population of 15 million—is absurd to say the least.

 

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Last Week In Istanbul I Caught a Glimpse of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Stadium During Kasimpasaspor’s Match With Istanbul Basaksehir. The Two Invented Teams Failed To Fill the Stadium in What Should be a Local “Derby”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Yet this was not the only absurdity of the final week of the first half of the 2017-2018 season, since there was an even lower attendance! In the match between Osmanlispor (Ottoman Sports Club) and Akhisar Belediyespor; Ajansspor reported an attendance of 199 (!) but their figure may have been generous since Oda TV reported an attendance of 181. Regardless what the true figure is, that a top flight match in a football crazed country like Turkey should attract less than one thousand fans is embarrassing to say the least. The reasons for such a low attendance figure, however, can be traced back to politics.

Both Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor [Ankara] are “invented” teams, so to speak; both were invented by the ruling AKP government to provide alternatives to the teams that currently hold a hegemonic position in Turkish football (Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray in Istanbul; Genclerbirligi and Ankaragucu in Ankara). Due to their lack of any “real” fan base (fostered out of a neighborhood or class identity in the manner of many European clubs), these artificially created teams struggle to attract fans. Osmanlispor’s struggles have been compounded by a power struggle within the Turkish political establishment. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan forced out the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, on 28 October 2017 it meant that Osmanlispor had lost a major benefactor. Mr. Gokcek’s 23-year long reign in Ankara coincided with a lot of social engineering in the form of urban development (the odd structures he built in Ankara have become legendary; among them were a dinosaur and a giant robot–the latter got him sued by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers for wasting taxpayer money on . . . a robot statue in a traffic island).

 

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The Fact That I am Even Typing the Phrase “A Giant Robot on a Traffic Island” is Certainly Absurd–But Perhaps Not as Absurd as the Fact that Hard-Earned Taxpayer Money Was Spent on This Monstrosity; It is the Ultimate Insult to Ankara’s Working Class. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/turkish-mayor-sued-over-giant-transformer-robot-statue-10169516.html

 

But giant robot statues were not the only thing that Mr. Gokcek spent taxpayer money on. He also spent money on getting Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation—Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor (the municipality’s team) promoted to the top flight of Turkish football. After a conflict of interest (as Mr. Gokcek took over ownership of one of Ankara’s oldest teams, Ankaragucu), Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor became Ankaraspor and ultimately Osmanlispor (the neo-Ottoman undertones should be unmistakable here; it is a topic I have written about before). Mr. Gokcek even spent time sending municipal employees to Osmanlispor games in a bid to boost their attendance figures. Now that new mayor Mustafa Tuna is in office however, the municipal employees are no longer going to the stadium, which explains the low attendance figures for Osmanlispor’s final home match before the Turkish Super League’s winter break. Ankaragucu fans delighted in the development, of course, joking on Twitter that more than 200 people watch the municipality’s backhoes during construction.

 

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Ankaragucu Fans Amuse Themselves on Social Media With the Apalling Emptiness of Osmanlispor’s Stadium. Images Courtesy Of: https://odatv.com/osmanli-yikildi-2712171200.html

 

While it is refreshing that this corrupt politician’s meddling in the sports world is finally coming to light, it remains to be seen if the attempted social engineering of Turkish society through sport can be reversed. Istanbul Basaksehir is currently leading the Turkish Super League at the halfway point despite being unable to make it out of a weak UEFA Europa League group consisting of Hoffenheim, Sporting Braga, and Ludogorets Razgrad, suggesting that the team’s success is purely domestic. Also, not only is Istanbul Basaksehir the team with the highest rate of successful completed passes in the Turkish Super League, it is also the team which has committed the least amount of fouls this year. These observations suggest that while Istanbul Basaksehirspor are certainly a good side, they might also be getting by with a little help from the (Turkish) referees as well. Time will tell just how far this particular social engineering project will go, since there can be no doubt that the failure of the Osmanlispor project will have repercussions in Turkish football going forward.

Football Fans Vs. The Bureaucratic Modern State: Debate Over Road Signs in Britain Both Geometrical and Sociological

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Author’s Note: As a marginal Sociologist I will support Mathematician Matt Parker from the perspective of my own discipline. In the spirit of C. Wright Mills, it is a Sociologist’s job to point out the difference between “personal troubles” and wider “public/social issues”: One person’s unemployment is a personal trouble; but if that person can transcend their individuality and see that others are unemployed as well the personal trouble becomes a wider social issue, like an economic recession. In this case, what may at first seem like a small personal “trouble” (people upset at a minor detail on highway signage) could actually be part of a wider public/social issue (the inflexibility of the modern bureaucratic state or the dumbing down of modern society in the context of one-dimensional thought). This is why it is important to move away from our own individualism and start thinking outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, on 31 October 2017, the BBC ran a piece focused on the incorrect depiction of footballs on British roadways. The piece notes that “Currently, the image on the sign is made entirely of hexagons but a ball like that would be geometrically impossible to make. Instead, a real football has a mixture of hexagons and pentagons . . .”. Mathematician Matt Parker has started a petition—and gathered 20,000 signatures from football fans supporting him—to get the signs changed. Even though UK law stipulates that the hexagon pattern is the only one that can depict stadiums, Mr. Parker rightly points out that this incorrect depiction of footballs is “embarrassing” due to the UK’s national tradition in sport and “very proud” tradition in math and science.

 

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Does This Really Look Like a Football Without the Iconic Pentagon? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41813720

 

Of course, the bureaucrats in the British government are not amused, and their argument is that traffic signs are merely a “general representation” of the activity they are supposed to depict. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DfT) claimed that since these signs have been in use since 1994, “drivers have become ‘accustomed’” to the design. The spokesman goes onto explain that any new details would not be visible from the distance drivers typically see them from while on the roadway, while adding that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”

Mr. Parker’s response points out the odd contradictions in the DfT’s response:

I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents. I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”

Mr. Parker does well to point out the contradictions inherent in the response, and while the signs should certainly be made to look more like a football there is also a worrying condescension that comes out of the DfT’s response: the bureaucratic state seems to be assuming that its citizens are morons. To say that a new design will not work since drivers have become “accustomed” to the current one suggests that British drivers suffer from a sort of mental atrophy. Has the modern world become so one-dimensional in its thought that the modern mind is no longer flexible enough to comprehend any changes to what it is accustomed to?

It is certainly ironic, since—in other areas of the modern world—it seems that the bureaucratic state is all too willing to force change on its citizens in the name of “progressive” politics: In the United States the name of the first President, George Washington, can be removed from the church he worshiped at while statues of prominent figures from American history can be removed to white-wash the history of slavery in the United States, yet British drivers cannot deal with a “change” to their highway signs? It would seem—to me at least—that this is an insult to the intelligence of British drivers.

Similarly, the argument that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary” and thus increase the risk of an “incident” seems to ignore the fact that—in the modern world—we are already distracted by much more than the correct depiction of footballs on a highway sign. I—like anyone who has ever driven on a highway—am quite certain that the millions of people taking selfies in their cars, texting in their cars, stuffing their faces with fast food burgers in their cars, or even doing make up in their cars are much more likely to cause an “incident” on a roadway than someone “distracted” by a geometrically correct depiction of a football on a highway sign. To argue otherwise—as the DfT did—is merely to insult the intelligence of British citizens.

In fact, if modern society were not as dumbed down as it has become, it is likely that this incorrect depiction of a football would be more likely to cause an incident than a correct depiction would be! (Of course, that would hinge on people actually knowing what a football should actually look like…or knowing that “Bluetiful” is not a word, as I have argued before). The football sign row shows that the bureaucratic state in Britain is more willing to insult its national traditions and history—as well as the intelligence of its citizenry—than attempt to rectify an oversight in graphic design. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok—we are human after all (for now at least). But it is pretty embarrassing for the government to give excuses that are—for lack of a better word—just lame.

 

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In Italy, Signs That Actually Look Like Footballs Are Not Causing Massive Pile-Ups On The Autostrada (At Least, Not As Far As I Know). So If They Can Do It In Italy, Why Not In Britain? Image Courtesy Of: https://footballtripper.com/san-siro-stadium-guide-milan/

 

The Humor of the ZIraat Turkish Cup First Round Offers Some Relief for the Turkish Football Scene

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22 August 2017 was a rough day for Turkish football fans. Istanbul Basaksehirspor—a team I have written about in the past—was a post away from qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in their tie with Sevilla FC. Meanwhile, the chairman of Atiker Konyaspor—Turkish Super Cup champions—Ahmet San was questioned by prosecutors for having ByLock (an app used by the alleged planners of the 15 July 2016 coup) on his phone. After being questioned by prosecutors, his cellular telephone and computer were confiscated while he himself was released. After being released Mr. San resigned from his post at the head of Konyaspor, but it did little to quell the controversy.

 

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Mr. San Has Resigned, But The Controversy Rages On. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberturk.com/spor/futbol/haber/1606389-konyaspor-baskani-nin-bylock-sorusturmasinda-ifadesi-alindi

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Former Goalkeeper Omer Catkic Was Arrested For Possessing the Same App as Mr. San. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/darbe-girisimi-macka-ilce-jandarma-komutani-tegmene-gozalti/

 

An MP from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), Metin Kulunk, questioned the decision to release Mr. San and asked the rhetorical question “Is there someone protecting this person [Mr San]?”. Indeed, it is a good question since—on the same day—former goalkeeper Omer Catkic was arrested for having the same “Bylock” app on his phone as Mr. San! Mr. Kulunk went on to say that the state needs to get tougher on FETO’s organization in Turkish football and that “football’s intestines must be cleaned”. (Here FETO refers to the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, a loose group of the followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for masterminding last summer’s failed coup attempt). Regardless of whether or not Mr. San is guilty, the double standard in use here is unmistakable. Since Konyaspor have reached unprecedented heights—experiencing the most successful period in the club’s history—due to investors with ties to “green capital” (businesses connected to the conservative community), it is clear that the Turkish state does not want to alienate too many of their supporters. It will be interesting the follow the fall out from this latest development but, in the meantime, I will share some new from the lighter side of football.

22 August 2017 was also the first round of the Ziraat Turkish cup, the national cup competition that brings together teams from all corners of Turkey. Since the first round is played by teams from provinces that are not represented in the top four (professional) leagues, this is grassroots football at its best. Turkish television showed five of the matches live, and it was a good way for fans to appreciate Turkey’s geographic diversity. Even if fans couldn’t go in person, they could see the different scenery ranging from the Central Anatolian steppe behind MKE Kirikkalespor’s stadium to the majestic peak of Mount Ararat rising behind Igdirspor’s stadium in Turkey’s easternmost province. The Aegean hinterland was represented by the derby between Kutahyaspor and Tavsanli Linyitspor, while the black sea could be seen behind the stand of Sinopspor’s stadium (even if it was blocked by one gentleman’s head in the broadcast).

Twitter users laughed at the small idiosyncrasies of small town football—like the post which blocked the view of television cameras in Sinop’s stadium, the weight of some of the amateur players, or the policeman who wandered onto the pitch seemingly oblivious to the match being played. As one Twitter user said, “if there is a better sports organization than this one, please tell us”. In response to the poor policeman’s embarrassing gaffe, an editor of an online news aggregator penned the headline “I cannot watch a match in another country!”. While the football may not have been great, these small moments from the first round of the Ziraat Turkish Cup gave Turkish fans something to laugh about and that is something to be celebrated during these troubling times. Football can unite just as it can divide, and in this case the Ziraat Turkish Cup allows fans to appreciate all parts of Turkish life regardless of what region of Turkey they may live in. I share with you some of the best moments from the first round and congratulate all the teams that have moved onto the second round!

 

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Clearly, Sinopspor’s Stadium Is Not Made For Televised Matches. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/search?q=bhdrizgec&src=typd

 

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The Gentleman Is Not Only Blocking the View of the Field, But Also Of the Black Sea! No, There Might Not Be a Better Sports Organization Than This One. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/mossmeister/status/899984776882532353

 

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The Footballers In the Lower Leagues Are…Not the Fittest. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/KocumKosecki/status/899982792439758848

 

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The Snowcapped Summit of Mount Ararat Rises Behind the Stands of Igdirspor’s Stadium in Turkey’s Easternmost Province. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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The Plains of Central Anatolia Behind the Stands of MKE Kirikkalespor’s Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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It Feels Like Your’e In the Stadium! As Fans Lean Over In the Stands, They Block the Cameras During the Kutahya Derby. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

Anderson Stadium at Providence College: New England Revolution-Rochester Raging Rhinos (3-0)

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Almost a month ago I attended a U.S. Open Cup match at Providence College’s Anderson Stadium between the MLS’ New England Revolution and the second-tier USL’s Rochester Raging Rhinos. Among the almost two thousand spectators cramming a college stadium on an early summer afternoon I could not help but realize that—in some small way—this match served as an allegory for wider U.S. society amidst its current polarization. It was a David Vs. Goliath match, with a much richer MLS side facing off against a second division opponent (realistically, the outcome was never in doubt). Since the result was so predictable, I turned my attention to the fans—the most sociological aspect of a soccer match.

 

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Early Summer In Providence. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

The U.S. Open Cup is one of the most storied cup competitions in the world, even if it takes place in a country that does not value football. This year there have even been a few Cinderella stories, like the amateur side Christos FC. Given the history of this cup competition, one that is over one hundred years old, the fans had come out in full force for one of the few matches that the New England Revolution have ever played in Providence, Rhode Island.

The “hardcore” fans, on the other side of the field from where I stood, were vocal in their support while also advertising their increased politicization (a subject I have written about in the past). Some fans were waving a rainbow variation of the “Flag of New England”, an interesting meshing of Revolutionary War America and current LGBT movements, while on my side a priest (likely from the Catholic Providence College) was taking in the match. In that moment, I wondered if the LGBT activist/fans on the other side of the field—and the Catholic priest on my side—had ever had a conversation with one another. The likely answer is that they have not, and that the two should watch the match from opposite sidelines was an allegory for some of the issues we see these days in the polarized climate of the United States. If people holding opposing points of view do not even speak with one another, then how can they empathize with one another?

 

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Soccer Brings All Walks Of Life Together. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

This lack of communication, of course, is not specific to the United States; it exists throughout the global “West”. We believe in the myth of globalization bringing us closer together by cutting down the cost and time of communication; in reality society is just as fragmented as ever—people at a dinner table prefer interacting with their phones to interacting with their fellow diners. In Europe—and to an extent in the United States—the idea is that “pluralism” will bring a more diverse society and thus bring us closer together. This myth has been debunked by the ghettoization of non-whites in the United States and Muslims in Europe; just because “different” people are made to live in separate areas does not make a society more “diverse”, it just means that the disparate parts of society are not actually talking to one another; they are in fact drifting apart, rather than coming together.

This kind of situation—where communication between different social groups is discouraged—fosters a society where individuals are not able to make the connection between personal troubles and societal issues that C. Wright Mills once explained. The only way to make such sociological connections is through communication, something that is sorely lacking in the technocratic world of the modern-day West. As I watched the sunset over Providence behind one of the goals I thought about something my dentist had told me, when I said I was studying Turkish soccer: she asked me if “I was afraid to go there because it is dangerous”…clearly, she had not communicated with anyone from outside of her bubble. It is not, of course, completely her fault. But it is a characteristic of the individualistic society that has taken root in Western cultures.

 

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Sunset Over Providence. Image Courtesy Of M.L.

 

In order to actually get to know others, we must—as I have argued before—first travel. Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes some great points along these lines in an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, when he describes playing for Galatasaray in Istanbul (I have bolded the pertinent parts):

 

For one thing, on the pitch it was just an incredible game. It was quick and intense and it pushed me as a keeper. We won the Turkish Cup that year and qualified for Champions League. Off the field, it was absolutely phenomenal. For a kid from Bay Village, Ohio, to go and live in a Muslim country was an eye-opening experience.

 Which brings me to the sheep.

 We were walking to a game right after Ramadan was over, and the fans were holding a sheep. On a list of things you don’t expect to see on the soccer grounds, I’m pretty sure a live sheep would be somewhere near the top, but there it was. I had no idea what was about to happen, while the rest of my teammates couldn’t have been less fazed. There was a lot of yelling and then the fans just slit the sheep’s throat — right there in front of us. Blood everywhere. They dipped their hands in it, and swiped it on their forehead as a sign of good luck. Then they asked us to do the same.

 This wasn’t something that most Americans would consider normal, but it was absolutely brilliant to be a part of. I had teammates who, during Ramadan, had to fast during daylight hours even as professional athletes. We’d be at training and a call to prayer would go off and certain players who were very religious would stop their training, go pray and come back to the pitch. Once you learn that that’s how things work, it’s not a big deal, but in the U.S. you can go through your whole life in a little bubble. But when you live in these places, you find out that these people are very good human beings. It was incredible. It was understanding other cultures. It was a phenomenal thing to see.

 

Friedel goes on to explain, “I had two choices: Learn Turkish or don’t understand a word that anybody was saying. So three days a week, I took Turkish lessons”. Mr. Friedel should be commended for his willingness to communicate with—and assimilate into—a culture that was so different than his own. It is a lesson that all of us—whether football fans or not—would do well to heed. There are a lot of perspectives out there, the only way we can begin to understand them is by communicating with those who we might—at first—not think we have anything in common with.

 

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Brad Friedel Appearing for the United States National Team. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/2016-6-26-brad-friedel-soccer-copa-america/

 

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Brad Friedel (R) In Turkey (Please Note the Classic Adidas Shirt Designs). Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/galatasaraylilarin-duygulanarak-bakacagi-nostalji-goruntuler-512738

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