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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Kayseri Erciyesspor-Trabzonspor

Attendance: 11,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Elazigspor: 23.550

Akhisar Belediyespor-Kayserispor

Attendance: 1,100

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

Gaziantepspor-Genclerbirligi

Attendance: 4,200

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

Bursaspor-Elazigspor

Attendance: 20,000

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

Besiktas-Fenerbahce

Attendance: 20,000

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

 

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

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

 

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

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