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Beşiktaş’ New Stadium Opens As a Political Event: What’s In a Name?

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On 11 April 2016 the 41,903 seater Vodafone Arena finally opened in Istanbul as Beşiktaş defeated their nemesis Bursaspor 3-2 on Monday night. It was a homecoming Beşiktaş fans could be pleased with, having been away from their stadium since May 2013. Incidentally, that was the same month the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul, a fact not lost on diken.com that noted that “the stadium opened like [the old Inönü stadium] closed”. That is to say with confrontations between fans and police; tear gas and water cannons were deployed on 11 May 2013 before the final match in the old Inönü Stadium. So, why is it that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same?

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BESIKTAS IN YENI STADYUMU VODAFONE ARENA YARIN ACILIYOR STADYUMDA SON DURUM(ALI AKSOYER/ISTANBUL(DHA))

The New Stadium in All its Grandeur. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailysabah.com/football/2016/04/10/black-eagles-besiktas-back-in-their-nest

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The Old, 11 May 2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/besiktas-savas-alanina-dondu-23259349

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And the New 11 April 2016: http://www.diken.com.tr/kapandigi-gibi-acildi-vodafone-arena-onundeki-taraftara-biber-gazi-ve-tazyikli-su/

The official government opening of the stadium came a day earlier on Sunday, 10 April 2016 as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former President Abdullah Gül, Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman, and national team coach Fatih Terim had an impromptu kick around at the center circle. Never mind that Prime Minister Davutoğlu missed the ball both times it was kicked to him; the out of form politician was duly mocked on social media and one sarcastic user noted that Mr. Davutoğlu’s ball control was far superior to Lionel Messi’s.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/513352/Sosyal_medya_bu_videoyu_konusuyor__Davutoglu_nun_topla_imtihanini.html

Meanwhile, former footballer President Erdoğan (who displayed much better footwork) wished Beşiktaş well in its new stadium; never mind that his government pursued a court case against the team’s fan group, Carsşı for involvement in “terrorism” and planning a “coup”. On this day Mr. Erdoğan used the event to underline that, due to the construction of new stadiums across the country, the subject of the country hosting the Olympics was a mere “formality” (Interestingly, the English version of this speech did not include the words “formality”). Following Turkey’s failure to land the Olympics two summers ago this opportunity was seen as a way to further foment national pride amidst the chaos that seems to be descending slowly on the Turkish state. For the record Carşı were not invited to the official opening, in their place a 1,000 person delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) youth branch were invited; they were the only “fans” invited to the opening, highlighting the political tensions overshadowing the stadium’s opening day. Indeed President Erdoğan cut a lonely figure on the opening of the “people’s stadium” as it was devoid of people. Reportedly, fans were kept out due to a fear of possible protests.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/42483/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-vodafone-arenanin-acilisini-yapti.html

11 April, game day, was more eventful. Beşiktaş fans faced tear gas and water cannons as they made their way to the stadium; the official comment from police was that they were clearing the way for visiting Bursaspor’s arrival to the stadium. Later, in the stadium anti government chants rose from the stands as fans sang a song born out of the Gezi Park protests “biber gazi sık bakalım/C’mon spray us with tear gas”, while some chanted “We are Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk] Soldiers”. CNN Turk reported that one police officer slapped a fan in what was supposed to be a festive event. Indeed, the scenes were eerily parallel to those from the last match at the old Inönü stadium in May 2013. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that—as with many things lately in Turkey—even the opening of a stadium is political.

Opposition channel Halk TV posted a picture on their Facebook page of the façade of the new Vodafone Arena; it was decorated with a Turkish Flag and a Beşiktaş flag along with portraits of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President Erdoğan, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu. The second picture says that “parallel winds” blew the portraits of Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu over. I have written previously about the politicization of stadium construction in Turkey, and it is not surprising that the Turkish political establishment would stamp its mark on the opening of the Vodafone Arena.

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Image Courtesy of: Halk TV Facebook Page. NOTE: It is unclear if these two pictures were taken on the same day, the left most portrait looks different in the two images. However, it is not important if the two images are from the same period in time; the main point here is twofold: 1) That the Government should stamp their mark on the opening of a sports stadium and, 2) That an opposition TV channel should  voice their opinion about it. This interaction further underlines the politicization of stadia in Turkey.

Yılmaz Özdil, a columnist for the opposition newspaper Sözcü, reminded the public of the recent politicization of—among all things—stadium names. His entire commentary is available at the end of this post, it does not require knowledge of Turkish to understand the main point. In short, the newly constructed stadiums in Turkey are part of an ideological battle for Turkey’s history. While many old stadiums were named after Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the new stadiums are being labeled with the generic name “arena”, often with the addition of some commercial brand attached at the end of it.

Fans of sports in the United States, England, and Europe should not be unfamiliar with the neoliberal undertones inherent in this practice, part and parcel of the spread of Industrial football. Multitudes of U.S. Baseball stadiums now boast corporate names, as do NFL (American) football stadiums. London’s Highbury was demolished to make way for Emirates Stadium. Dortmund’s Westfalenstadiuon became Signal Iduna Park while Bayern Munich (and 1860) moved from the Olympiastadion to Allianz Arena. But these were mainly economically motivated name changes, rather than ideologically motivated.

Mr. Özdil notes that Bursa’s old Atatürk stadium has become the Timsah (Crocodile) Arena. Antalya Atatürk Stadium has become Antalya Arena. Provincial Afyon Atatürk Stadium has become the Afyon Arena. Konya Atatürk Stadium has become Torku Arena, named after a local foodstuffs company. Rize Atatürk Stadium has become Çaykur Didi Stadium, named after a new iced tea brand. And Beşiktaş’s Inönü stadium—named after Turkey’s second President Ismet Inönü—has become the Vodafone Arena, named after a multinational telecommunications company. Mr. Özdil regrets the erasure of Turkish history from stadium names across Turkey, seeing it as an assault on Turkish history, while noting that—on 8 April 2016—Izmir’s Karşıyaka Sports club reversed the name of their basketball team’s stadium from Karşıyaka Arena to . . . Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu.

Because the name of another figure from Turkish history disappears from a stadium—and violence accompanies the new stadium’s opening as it did the old one’s closing—we can be forgiven for thinking that, indeed, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it has its good side as well. Football legend Pele once called the old Inönü Stadium “a great place to watch football” because it was the world’s only stadium with a view of two contintents. Indeed, we can take peace in the fact that the new Vodafone Arena is—at least—located in the same place as the old Inönü Stadium and the Dolmabahçe Stadium before it. Perhaps, in this round, industrial football has not achieved a complete victory. A stadium still stands at the center of a historic city like Istanbul while Beşiktaş’s fans remembered–despite the political sideshow–those who played an important part in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aksam.com.tr/sporbesiktas/besiktastan-inonu-stadina-veda/haber-204681

 

Appendix: Yılmaz Özdil’s Full column, detailing all stadium name changes.

Courtesy of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/yazarlar/yilmaz-ozdil/al-sana-arena-1176695/

Bursa Atatürk stadıydı.
Timsah Arena yapıldı.

Antalya Atatürk stadıydı.
Antalya Arena yapıldı.

Afyon Atatürk stadıydı.
Afyon Arena yapıldı.

Eskişehir Atatürk stadıydı.
Es Es Arena yapıldı.

Antakya Atatürk stadıydı.
Hatay Arena yapıldı.

Konya Atatürk stadıydı.
Torku Arena yapıldı.

Sakarya Atatürk stadıydı.
Sakarya Arena yapıldı.

Beşiktaş İnönü stadıydı.
Vodafone Arena yapıldı.

İzmit İsmetpaşa stadıydı.
Kocaeli Arena yapıldı.

Malatya İnönü stadıydı.
Malatya Arena yapıldı.

Ali Sami Yen stadıydı.
Telekom Arena yapıldı.

Samsun 19 Mayıs stadıydı.
Samsun Arena yapıldı.

Sivas 4 Eylül stadıydı.
Sivas Arena yapıldı.

Şanlıurfa 11 Nisan stadıydı.
GAP Arena yapıldı.

Gaziantep Kamil Ocak stadıydı.
Gaziantep Arena yapılıyor.

Adana 5 Ocak stadıydı.
Adana Koza Arena yapılıyor.

Batman 16 Mayıs stadıydı.
Batman Arena yapılıyor.

Kayseri Atatürk stadıydı.
Kadir Has stadı yapıldı.

Rize Atatürk stadıydı.
Çaykur Didi stadı yapıldı.

Diyarbakır Atatürk stadıydı.
Diyarbakır Arena yapılıyor.

Giresun Atatürk stadıydı.
Çotanak Arena yapılıyor.

Elazığ Atatürk stadıydı.
Elazığ Arena yapılıyor.

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İzmir’de de arena vardı.
Karşıyaka arena spor salonu.
Dün resmen silindi.
“Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu” yapıldı!

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Göğsümüzü gere gere “ben İzmirliyim” dememize bir kez daha vesile olan… Karşıyaka belediye başkanı Hüseyin Mutlu Akpınar ve Karşıyaka belediye meclisinin değerli üyelerine yurttaş olarak teşekkür ederim.

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Memleketteki arena işgaline karşı Hasan Tahsin direnişidir bu.

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Ve, çağrım tüm Türkiye’ye…
Şehrinizdeki Atatürk izlerinin silinmesine geçit vermeyin.
Fair play çerçevesinde protesto edin, maçlarda pankart açın, sosyal medya grupları kurun, itiraz edin, alay edin, pişman edin.

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Tüm arena tabelalarını tek tek yeniden Atatürk’le değiştirene kadar “sportif kuvayi milliye”ye katılın kardeşim.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Helps Facilitate Antalyaspor Move for Samuel Eto’o

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Antalyaspor have been making waves recently at a time when football news is awash with transfer rumors; few are true, many are false. But the newly promoted side from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast has apparently signed Cameroonian great Samuel Eto’o. After going through a health check up he has returned to France to visit his ill father and will complete the transfer on July 7. What is interesting about the transfer is not that the 34 year-old striker will be playing in Turkey, rather it is the government’s hand in the transfer.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3139054/Samuel-Eto-o-verge-signing-newly-promoted-Turkish-Antalyaspor-journeyman-prepares-move.html

Eto’o is a big name in world football (and even politics, as his work to raise awareness of Boko Haram terrorism has been recognized) and his arrival in Turkey will certainly boost supporter interest in a league that has been plagued by low attendances following the implementation of the Passolig system. In order to facilitate the transfer Antalyaspor announced that Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu assigned a private plane to carry Antalyaspor’s officials to Milan in order to complete the transfer. The news was met with disgust from many in Turkey, angry that tax-payer money—and possibly a government plane—was used for private matters. After the rage Mr. Cavusoglu made an announcement stating that the term “assign” was a misunderstanding and that the plane was “by no means a state plane”. Mr. Cavusoglu explained that as a representative of Antalya Province he is devoted to helping the team and that he just gave the names of various companies specializing in chartering planes.

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A Copy of the Antalyaspor Press Statement. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/304037/AKP_doneminde_bu_da_oldu__Devlet_ucagi_ile_transfer_rezaleti.html

Whatever the reality is it is worrying that a government official would be so deeply involved in the matters of a football team. But such support is known to pay off—when elections roll around fans remember which politicians supported their teams, and in a country like Turkey, where football holds an important place in the social and cultural mind, the fans are a large part of the constituency that cannot be ignored by a populist government reeling from its setback in the recent elections.

Turkey’s Social Malaise Comes Out On The Pitch In Trabzon

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Sports are often presented as a figurative “war in peacetime”. Sometimes, however, sports can also become a staging ground for wider social malaise—and create war zones itself. That was the case this weekend, as the Trabzonspor-Fenerbahçe derby at the Hüseyin Avni Aker Stadium in Trabzon had to be abandoned at halftime due to crowd violence. It is the second derby to be abandoned in Turkey this year (I attended the first).

On Saturday night—the night before the derby—I had planned to write a post for this blog on an unfortunate event that occurred at an amputee league match. Yes, you read that right. Not only do amputees have a soccer league in Turkey, but they also have incidents at the matches. On March 9th Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor faced off against Istanbul Özürlülerspor at the Inönü University’s synthetic grass field in Malatya in the Turkish Amputee Football Super League.

According to the news report the guests from Istanbul went up 1-0 in the 12th minute, before Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor got an equalizer in the 36th minute and then a go-ahead goal in the 40th minute. Three minutes later Gazi Öztop of Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor was sent off for a second yellow—at that point his team-mate, Mustafa Çolak, was sent off as well for dissent. That is when everything fell apart. Çolak was apparently seen to hit the referee, Sadık Kayhan, with one of his crutches before a pitch-invading fan attacked Mr. Kayhan, followed by the rest of Malatya’s team. Kayhan had to escape to the locker room and called the game off while riot police entered the field with tear gas in a bid to restore order.

For me, this was reminiscent of a similarly disgusting event at a Turkish Wheelchair Basketball Super League match between Beşiktaş and Galatasaray on 10 December 2012. Indeed the headlines on Sporx.com were the same for both events—“Sözün Bittiği Yerdeyiz” (We Are At The Point That Words End). In that incident the match had to be abandoned in the second quarter with Galatasaray up by 5 as debris rained onto the court while Beşiktaş and Galatasaray fans clashed; videos of players crawling from damaged wheelchairs were gut-wrenching. In the aftermath, grainy pictures—taken through clouds of tear gas—showed a basketball court strewn with destroyed wheelchairs in an unthinkable embarrassment for two of Turkey’s biggest sporting clubs.

A friend of mine in Istanbul—a life long Galatasaray fan and season ticket holder for the football matches—was so angry that he was brought to tears by the incident—to think that his fans could do such a thing. Indeed, it was unthinkable. It is unthinkable. Yet, Sunday happened in Malatya. And Monday happened in Trabzon. The signs of social malaise, creeping through all levels of Turkish sport, are undeniable.

Before Monday’s match there were fears of major clashes because of the bad blood between the two teams. Fenerbahçe beat Trabzonspor to the Turkish title on the final day of the 2010-11 season, a championship that led to chairman Aziz Yıldırım landing in jail over a match fixing scandal. Snipers were placed on roof-tops surrounding the stadium, a move by Turkish security forces that—according to one news report—angered fans before the match even started.

In the match, Fenerbahçe’s Emmanuel Emenike put Fenerbahçe up 1-0 in the 23rd minute—seven minutes later rocks rained down on the pitch from Trabzonspor’s fans and the referee had to stop the match for ten minutes. When the unruly displays started again in the last minutes of the first half the referees went to the locker room. The match would not continue.

Trabzonspor fan favorite and Turkish national team star, goalkeeper Onur Kıvrak, went outside the stadium with security escorts to urge the fans to leave. His words, however, may have egged them on even more:

We are the followers of this virtuous jersey. But these [events] don’t befit our virtuous fans. We will fight until the death but now is not the time. Now leave in a way befitting of Trabzonspor. Later, we will fight until death.”

I hesitate to brand Kıvrak as a rabble-rouser—he was bold enough to attempt to do something amid the chaos, and that should be applauded. However, one cannot predict the fans’ reactions to his words—perhaps they could have been chosen more wisely. Indeed, Trabzonspor board members were allegedly furious at Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, himself a controversial figure in Turkish football, about Kıvrak’s move while taking a shot at their own fans (!):

President, who sent Onur amongst the fans? There are [alcohol] drinkers and [marijuana] smokers among them. What if someone had stabbed him?

Hacıosmanoğlu just chose to ask the question back: “Who sent Onur?” I’m not so sure anyone sent him, my personal opinion is that he—a representative of the Turkish national team himself—just felt a personal duty to go where no one dared go and confront the social malaise head on.

Unfortunately, he had no calming effect as police wounded in the riots had to be carried into the stadium to be treated by Fenerbahçe’s team doctors (the team was stranded inside the stadium as chaos ensued outside). In the end an armored vehicle had to be brought in to carry the Fenerbahçe team to the airport—at 12:45 am. This was more than four hours after kick off, and more than three hours after the referee called the match off.

In the fall I attended an amateur league match at Çeşmespor’s stadium, in my hometown. There I had written about the tensions simmering below the surface in Turkish society that, unfortunately, tend to come out at sporting events. Hopefully Turkey’s social malaise—that manifests itself most often in the football stadium—will be dealt with. But the weekend ended with improbable violence at an obscure amputee match in central Anatolia before this week started with more probable—and still unacceptable—crowd violence on the Black Sea coast. It is something to be wary of as local elections in the wake of last June’s protests take place later in March. My friend, the life-long Galatasaray fan, told me “The people of this country are full of hate for each other.” As a Turk I certainly hope the politicians take note in this election season. Otherwise, it will certainly be a rocky road ahead—on and off the field.

 

NOTE: All translations are my own.

 

Thanks to Ultras Tifo (http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/2323-riots-trabzonspor-fenerbahce-10032014.html) for the pictures below, please check the link for more photos from the match.

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The violence was real on the pitch:

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And off the pitch: