In a previous post, this blog talked about the recent arrest of the chairman of Fenerbahce, Turkey's biggest football team, and the shockwaves it has created. The arrest was part of a wide investigation into match-fixing in Turkey's premier league that has netted several other football officials.
Taking on the football teams and their legions of notoriously rabid fans is a very risky move by the government, which could soon find itself having to rein the angry hooligans in. Case in point? A match in Istanbul Thursday between Fenerbahce and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, which had to be cancelled in the 67th minute after a horde of angry fans stormed the field to protest the arrest of the team's chairman, Aziz Yildirim. From Hurriyet:
Hundreds of Fenerbahçe fans, angry over match-fixing allegations against their club, invaded the pitch during a friendly against Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk, forcing the abandonment of the game.
At a time when the country's football federation is pondering whether to postpone the start of the league due to the corruption turmoil, Fenerbahçe fans, some wearing masks and T-shirts bearing the picture of jailed club president Aziz Yıldırım, invaded the pitch in the 67th minute of Thursday's game at Fenerbahçe's Sukru Saracoglu stadium.
With Turkey's premier football league facing a massive match-fixing investigation that could lead to the downfall of the country's champion team, it appears that the Turkish basketball league is stepping in with better news. After its unsuccessful run with a former NBA star (Allen Iverson), Istanbul's Besiktas now appears to have signed a bonafide active star, the New Jersey Nets' Deron Williams. From the New York Times:
Williams, the Nets’ star point guard, has agreed in principle to a one-year deal with the Turkish club Besiktas, according to the team’s coach. His commitment would begin Sept. 1 — when the N.B.A.’s lockout would be two months old — and the deal includes an escape clause allowing him to return when the lockout ends.
“It’s the biggest signing in the history of European basketball,” Ergin Ataman, Besiktas’ excitable coach, said Thursday.
The agreement was confirmed by Misko Raznatovic, a European agent who works with Jeff Schwartz, the Los Angeles-based agent who represents Williams. Ataman and Raznatovic first met last month in Istanbul to discuss possible deals involving N.B.A. players.
Whatever political tensions Turkey may be going through right now (and they are many), they may all pale in comparison to the latest scandal to hit the country: allegations that some of the Turkish premier football league's top teams were involved in match rigging.
The investigation has already led to the arrest of the top executive of this year's league champion (and the favorite team of Turkey's Prime Minister), Istanbul's Fenerbahce, which could be relegated to the second-division if the allegations prove to be true. For a country as football-crazy as Turkey, this unfolding episode is sure to have serious repercussions and will likely play out with a distinct political undertone. More details on the story here and here.
Say what you want about his politics, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one brave man.On Tuesday, after his bus convoy was attacked by rock-throwing protestors in the Black Sea town of Hopa, he continued on to even more hostile territory: the historic city of Trabzon. The issue in Trabzon was not so much politics, but something even more divisive (in Turkish terms, at least): football (aka, soccer).
Erdogan is a well-known fan of Istanbul's Fenerbahce team, which became this year's Turkish premier league champ after just narrowly beating Trabzon's Trabzonspor for the title. Turks take their football and their teams with deadly seriousness and Trabzonspor team officials and fans are crying foul over Fenerbahce's victory, claiming it was rigged and implying there was even prime ministerial support for it. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
Many Trabzonspor fans have pointed to a meeting between Fener supporter and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Fenerbahçe chairman Aziz Yıldırım and captain Alex de Souza with only weeks left to go in the season as evidence of a fix. Furthermore, the revelation that some Fenerbahçe players sent text messages to their Ankaragücü counterparts before a match in mid-May, demanding that they “not cause trouble for them in a match being played with only a week left until the end of the league” has deepened the anger in the city. Fener won that match 6-0, driving them closer to the title.
Erdoğan came to the city Tuesday for an election rally, but was by met hundreds of Trabzonspor fans clad in maroon and blue – the team’s colors – who protested him and his government while accusing him of stealing the team’s long-awaited championship. One placard visible said, “We do not want a Fenerbahçe supporter as prime minister.”
As reported here earlier this year, Freddy Adu, an American soccer players whose career nosedived after his becoming a sensation at the tender age of 14, has been working on making a comeback by playing for Rizespor, a small team on Turkey's Black Sea coast.
According to Goal.com, turns out small town Turkish life is working out for Adu -- and his game. From the website's article:
“It’s a small town filled with really nice people, there’s no nightclubs or no malls," Adu says. "People like to hangout together at the café’s drinking tea. It’s just basically a very small town with a simple mind set and way of life.”
At his club Çaykur Rizespor things are different. There is a family-style setup and a sense of team unity. The players share meals at 11 a.m., as a team. This happens daily. They practice at 2 p.m. for about two hours and after Adu stays back to work on his free kicks, does some core work and works on his quickness. He is focused on soccer because there is nothing keeping him from staying behind after practice.
“I’m not distracted with other things," he says. "That has made a big difference for me. All I do is focus because I go to training and that’s the highlight of my day.”
Adu's success in Rize, best known for its tea plantations, comes as marked contrast to how another washed up American sports legend, basketball player Allen Iverson, has done in Turkey. Iverson signed up to play with Istanbul basketball powerhouse Besiktas after fizzling out in the NBA, only to spend more time on the bench than on the court.
Turkish soccer is often times better known for what takes place off the field than on it. With legions of obsessive -- and frequently violent -- fans who swear undying allegiance to their teams, Turkish soccer games have frequently turned into bloody affairs, with extreme fighting in the stands.
The Turkish government is now trying to make that a thing of the past, thanks to a new law just passed by parliament. From the Associated Press:
The legislation, passed late Thursday, introduces up to six years in prison for fans who dismantle seats, two years in prison for fans who chant racial slurs and obscenities in or around stadiums and one-year prison terms for spectators who attempt to bring guns, sharp objects or flares to sports events.
The legislation was pushed by the Turkish Football Federation, which has vowed to adopt zero tolerance toward hooliganism. The Turkish football league is frequently marred by crowd trouble, with fans lighting up flares, throwing objects and yelling obscenities to taunt opposition teams and referees.
More details here. The legislation will also require fans to buy electronic tickets to games, using a government-issued identification number, which will make it easier for officials to track an offending fans. And click here to hear an audio clip featuring Elif Batuman, a New Yorker writer who recently wrote a great article about the scarily committed fans of Istanbul's Besiktas team.
First it was former NBA star Allen Iverson, who a few months ago decided to try and resurrect (with little success) his career with a Turkish team. Now it's Freddy Adu, the Ghana-born American soccer player who made a big splash when he joined Major League Soccer at age 14 but now seems to be all washed up at the tender age of 22.
According to the Washington Post's "Soccer Insider" blog, Adu, who has played for several European teams in recent years, is about to be transferred to Rizespor, one of the top three teams in Turkey's second division professional soccer league. More details about the move here, and a fascinating profile of Adu's tragic career here.
Is the Turkey becoming the go-to country for fading former NBA stars looking for one last shot at glory? First it was former 76'ers star Allen Iverson, who was recently brought to Turkey to join Besiktas, an Istanbul team that's part of the country's premier basketball league. Now the team says they may be in the process of building up a has-been "dream team" with the possible acquisition Shaquille O'Neal, currently playing for the Boston Celtics. Could it be true? More details here.
When it was announced earlier this year that Turkey was forming its first national curling team, which would compete internationally, it was easy to imagine a kind of Jamaican bobsled team story in the making. Well, the team made its international debut at the European Championships in Scotland, and rather than "Cool Runnings," the Turks seemed to be inspired more by "Animal House."
As the Turkish press reported, one member of the team was accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl, while the rest of the team was busy getting drunk at their hotel, where they were even accused of setting a carpet on fire. More details here.
Does this spell the end for Turkish curling? A Today's Zaman report from the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum gives hope that a plucky homegrown form of the sport is developing.
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