Erdoğan: Football and Power in Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s sporting career
has become part of his mythology, reinforcing his image as
a salt-of-the-earth leader in tune with the masses. Over the last ten years, Turkish football
has experienced great change. It has become bigger
and louder, more commercialised and polarised, entwined ever more with business and politics.
So central has Erdoğan become to Turkish football
that any account of the state of the game today would be bereft without a study of his
role. And yet the game – and its obsessive, devoted fans
– also show the limits of his power. The man known by his supporters as Reis – the
Chief – was born to a poor family in 1954 in
Kasımpaşa, a working-class district on the shores of Istanbul’s Golden Horn. After
school, the young Erdoğan would work selling stale simit,
the circular sesame bread that is Turkey’s most
popular snack. But what he really wanted to do with his free time was kick a ball around.
“I loved football. It was my passion. It entered my dreams at night,” Erdoğan said
years later. “But my father never gave permission for me to
play.” According to the sanctioned narrative, Ahmet
Erdoğan – nicknamed ‘captain’ because of his work
on the Istanbul ferries – was fiercely against his son’s obsession. “Football won’t
feed the belly,” he used to growl. The young Tayyip (as he is
known) defied his father, sneaking out to play, hiding his
football boots in the coal bunker upon his return.
Aged 11, Erdoğan won a place at an İmam Hatip college, one of Turkey’s religious
high schools founded to train imams for the nation’s
mosques. He was not particularly hard working but excelled
in religious studies and sport. While still at school, he began playing for the amateur
side Camialtıspor. In 1974, a year after graduating
from high school, he moved to a team linked to the
Istanbul transport authority, IETT, on the recommendation of the team’s captain, who
was one of Erdoğan’s neighbours in Kasımpaşa.
In 1994, when he was on the verge of being elected mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan gave an
interview about his footballing career to the newspaper
Milliyet. As an up-and-coming Islamist politician, he
went to great lengths to weave a strong thread of religiosity into his years as a footballer,
explaining that when he played for IETT he used to lay
out his prayer rug and pray in the changing rooms.
The same interview also sees Erdoğan discuss the most fiercely disputed claim about his
footballing career: that he was almost signed by Fenerbahçe.
He reports that he was on Fenerbahçe’s transfer
list in 1977 but that his hopes evaporated with the departure of the team’s manager,
the Serbian Tomislav Kaloperović. Erdoğan is a Fenerbahçe
fan and some writers believe there is some burnishing of the historical record. But the
claim that he could have played for the Canaries would
be repeated again and again throughout the course of his political career.
Turkey is a deeply polarised nation and Erdoğan’s supporters trumpet his footballing experience.
A 2017 biopic of his life, for instance, shows
him as a child coming on to score the winner in the
closing minutes of a 9-9 game with a stunning overhead kick.
But sceptics have lined up to cast doubt on Erdoğan’s footballing career, part of a
wider mistrust of his story that also includes a disputed university
degree. Mustafa Hoş, a journalist, who mockingly describes the 2005 account as “the Holy
Book”, compares Erdoğan’s footballing days to trying to
uncover evidence about events that took place almost 100 years ago, describing the events
as ‘ambiguous and contradictory’
Soner Yalçın, a journalist who has written a 400-page take down of Erdoğan, makes no
effort to conceal his contempt. He believes that the
entire Fenerbahçe story is fabricated. Yalçın also claims
Erdoğan spent his first two years at Camıaltıspor as assistant to the kit man, and maintains
that he only got on the pitch because of “Kasımpaşa
pressure” exerted on the coach by a neighbourhood friend.
In the present day, under Erdogan’s rule, Turkish football is much changed. Over the
last ten years, greater commercialism has manifested in electronic
advertising boards, the stadiums being named after corporations and the broadening ranges
of club merchandise, from beer holders to baby-grows.
But Turkish football also has additional features that even the hyper-commercialised English
Premier League has yet to implement. On team shirts, the players’ names are relegated
to below the squad numbers.
The more visible spot across the shoulder blades is given over to adverts. During live
games on television, the screen periodically shrinks
to allow a banner advertising a petrol brand to flash across
the bottom. The Super League has become the seventh wealthiest football league in Europe
by revenue and many people are grateful to Erdoğan
personally for that development – many, including Yıldırım Demirören, the president of the
Turkish Football Federation (TFF), who in 2017 thanked
Erdogan specifically for allowing the game in Turkey to “gather the fruits of” his
leadership. Erdoğan is of course not solely responsible
for all of this. Perceptions matter, though, and many
across Turkey view the transformation of the country as not simply presided over by Erdoğan
but having stemmed directly from his words and
actions. Football remains a central part of Erdoğan’s
Big Man persona, the political conception in which a leader is both a father figure
and a hero. In a country in which the game is entwined with
notions of virile masculinity it is the ideal tool with
which to bolster a reputation2. He was still taking part in games well into his sixties;
at a charity match in 2014, he scored a hat-trick with
some surprisingly decent finishing. Erdoğan’s displays of sporting prowess
are reminiscent of those of Russian president Vladimir
Putin. Erdoğan frequently descends to the dressing room after matches to congratulate
players and he is forever taking penalties at the opening
of new stadiums or football conferences, which are
always widely documented. “The first goal from Erdoğan,” the sports newspaper Fotomaç
reported at the opening of the new Trabzonspor stadium
in December 2016. Next to the picture, the newspaper placed a star that read “a master
stroke”. Perhaps the largest change to sports in Turkey
under the AKP has been the surge in sports construction. From neighbourhood AstroTurf
pitches to world-class stadiums, every level of the
sports pyramid has seen huge investment in infrastructure. Many thousands now have affordable
and accessible sports amenities close to their homes and schools.
New sports facilities are part of a wider construction boom that has swept across the
cities of Turkey. The restless movement is not a consequence
but a cause – in a country in which construction and its affiliated industries
make up about 20 per cent of the economy, permanent
building keeps the economy afloat. Pride of place in the building spree has been given
to Erdoğan’s beloved mega-projects. They include a third
bridge across the Bosphorus and a road tunnel and
metro line that run under it. In 2015, construction began on a third airport, due to be the world’s
busiest with six runways. Football stadiums, too, are an important example of the policy
in action. Turkey has become Uefa’s leading builder
of new stadiums. Between 2007 and 2015, 18 new
grounds were built. The cities of Bursa, Eskişehir, Trabzon, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Samsun,
Antalya, İzmit, Adana, Adapazarı, Antakya and Konya all have – or in 2019 are soon
to get – a new stadium. Nearly all follow the same pattern:
an old stadium, built in the 1940s or 50s, is knocked
down. It will have been part of the republican project, located in a central area alongside
a park or some other recreational space and named either
after Atatürk himself or key dates from the Turkish
war of independence. By contrast, the new stadiums are named after
sponsors or the municipality. They often stand on the
outskirts of the city and are mostly owned by the government and leased to the clubs.
Consequently, the old city-centre plots can be sold off
by TOKI, the government housing agency, to developers for
a lucrative price. In many ways Turkey is going through a process
that the UK underwent in the 1990s, when the governance and infrastructure of the game
was rapidly overhauled. But safety and comfort were not
the only motivations. Stadiums are seen as a vital source of revenue. According to Kazancı,
the sale of boxes at the new Galatasaray stadium, plus
2500 VIP seats on a three-year contract, earned the
club US$80 million. Some go as far as to say that the stadium’s
existence is solely due to the opportunity to award a
construction project and enrich friends. Turkey isn’t Russia. There is no culture of everyday
minibribes to traffic police or civil servants. But business
is riddled with conflicts of interest and corruption. In Turkey many construction companies
are part of a wider portfolio of business interests. It has been alleged that in return
for contracts, they have been asked to acquire newspapers
and TV channels and ensure that they turn out obsequious coverage.
Local politicians jostle to have the ‘best’ projects built in their patch as a way of
showing their power and influence. Stadiums are constructed
less as community facilities and more money makers
and status symbols. Bestowing a new stadium on a town is one of the gifts that Erdogan,
the Big Man, can dole out in exchange for support.
But there is also a flip-side. Erdoğan was subjected to
his first ever large-scale public booing at the opening of the new Galatasaray ground
in January 2011. The team’s fans are convinced that
this act has had repercussions, insisting that the
horrendous traffic problems around the ground are caused because a second access road was
denied planning permission – supposedly an act
of punishment for the fans’ behaviour. The changing physical landscape of Turkish
football has been accompanied by a parallel development: a remodelling of the profile
of those who watch the game. On 14 April 2011, the
Turkish parliament passed the ‘Law to Prevent Violence and Disorder in Sport’ – or 6222
law – which was aimed at stamping out problems at
sports events by establishing a brand-new framework
of regulations. In Turkey in 2018, it is no longer possible
to buy an old-fashioned ticket to a football match, at least
in the top two leagues. Every person in the stadium must have what is known as a Passolig
card. This holds the fan’s name and surname, their
ID number and a photo. Tickets for games are purchased online and ‘added’ to the card.
On 10 April 2016, Erdoğan stepped out onto the turf of the Vodafone Arena – the brand
new Beşiktaş stadium, three years in the making.
Lessons had been learnt from the opening ceremony from the Galatasaray game five years earlier.
This time, the stands were empty. The Beşiktaş president Fikret Orman made
a speech in which he addressed Erdoğan as “dear
president”, “venerable president” or “the people’s president” no fewer than
13 times, angering many Beşiktaş fans with his obeisance. But Orman
knew his football club had to exist in Erdoğan’s Turkey. Famous players, including the then-Barcelona
star Arda Turan, took part in an online campaign backing Erdoğan and prior to the
2018 World Cup, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan invited controversy by posing for pictures
with him. In a political landscape divided starkly into
friends and enemies, many influential companies and organisations know on which side they
want to be.
But football in Turkey is not completely cowed. At a time when Erdoğan is accused of controlling
all aspects of life, from the judiciary to the media and the business world, his reach
into the ‘Big Three’ football clubs of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe
and Beşiktaş is perhaps more limited. With their
enormous cultural clout and vast numbers of fans, they are difficult to conquer. The AKP
has thrown its weight behind efforts to create
new teams, such as Istanbul’s Başakşehir and
Osmanlıspor in Ankara. On the pitch, Başakşehir have been giving the more established sides
a run for their money – they finished second in
2016–17 and narrowly missed out on qualifying for the
Champions League. But the club is a long way from rivalling the broad appeal of Fenerbahçe,
Galatasaray and Beşiktaş and, for Erdoğan, stepping out onto the pitch in front of the
rowdy, unpredictable fans of the Big Three teams
remains politically risky.

100 thoughts on “Erdoğan: Football and Power in Turkey

  1. This is actually frighteningly objective and honest.Please do a video on the History of Fatih Terim.

  2. Wonderful video as always love when your channel goes into the ties of football and deeper world issues. Was wondering if you'd considered doing a video on Issa Hayatou and the CAF corruption around his time in charge, I'm writing a paper on it in Uni and found it fascinating would love to see Tifo's take on the saga

  3. You videos on Turkey and Iran have been on point and I would love to get you word on Japan and China plus Indonesia should also be considered am a fan of world politics and football plus other things and as an East African I genuinely learn alot from you TIfo and lastly give Africa some airtime thanks for you content.

  4. well hes no longer going to be in power unless he manipulates the votes in istanbul with recounts and stuff … fucking dictator

  5. Amazing again I’m not a fan of the longer podcasts as to be honest you come over as a load of Eton / Winchester tossers (no offence it’s not out of envy or spite it’s just the way you come over tbh and there are better guardian etc) but in this format you are the best. This is much watch stuff more informative than world football phone in (which I have listened to since I was at uni and I’m 42) in 10 minutes rather than an 1 1/2 hours of what these days is largely repeats of the same stories by old men

  6. Tifo, This is the most complex analysis of the correlation between Turkish politics and football I have ever seen.

  7. Literally cannot say enough superlatives about Tifo football and the content you put out. As always another amazing video!

  8. As a follower of Turkish football for a long time and living it. This was so well researched and incredibly accurate.

  9. Please make a video about 19/00 Galatasaray UEFA winner side 🙂 I would like to listen about my team directly from you dear Tifo 🙂

  10. How do you think that team Başakşehir came out of nowhere and compete with the big three clubs? Companies of Istanbul municipality are sponsors of this club pouring millions of money to them. On the other hand the president of the club is Erdogan’s relative. Behind all his interest in Turkish football is just power and money. He s a control freak. He thinks has to control everything. Why should one politician intervene with football this much? Never forget this; everything he does he is doing for more power and more money.

  11. I'd love to travel to Turkey and experience this. The Turkish football league seems to be of a very decent standard. Plus, Turkish food and weather are fantastic. However, according to this Erdoğan nutter, Australasians get returned home from Turkey in coffins these days. I don't really find that to be an attractive element of an overseas holiday.

  12. I love how this fake news make its point by drawing crap n telling crap stories. I would love someone build stadium no matter politically or private. Just build it

  13. I wish politics had nothing to do with football and I know Basaksehir is gonna get sold most likely. But people should not forget that the Turkish government tried to help all of their clubs in the last 10-15 years, especially those with larger fanbases. They gave them money and modern stadiums. For them to now point at Basaksehir is a little hypocritical and unfair.

  14. Before people use to name stadiums after historical figures or club legends now they name stadiums to sponsors gets me fucking creazy

  15. I've never seen so-accurate analysis from foreigner who's not Turkish on Erdogan. Western media usually bash him every possible topic, even though his negatives are more than his positives, he is the man who is the reason for building over 30 stadiums in Turkey in last 10 years.

  16. Great journalism lies in this story. It is really satisfying as a turkish because it is much better covered than turkish journalist did before. Thank you.

  17. you cant force democracy on a society that isn't capable of handling a democracy. Take Iran as an example. You cant force a style of government on a people. I dont know where this leads turkey to, as they already failed a cout de'tat, but it seems like erdogans gov wont be leaving any time soon as the turkish dont seem to have full sights on a total change in state

  18. This video is open to misunderstandings due to not knowing Turkey's realities. In Turkey, none of the clubs, even the top 3, can't stay on their feet without government or munipilaty's help. It has always been like that in Turkey. Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş had their tax debts erasen by government many times to this day. Turkish governemnts, whether it is Conservatist or Leftist, took much less tax from footballers compared to many other European leagues to provide Turkish teams an edge over European counterparts.

    Nearly all of the stadiums in Turkey have been built by government. So it's not a new thing in Turkey.

    Football fan organizations, such as Fenerbahce's or Besiktas's fan clubs directly have joined to political movements against Erdogan in 2013.

    In Turkey, sports and politics have always been connected to each other. Old goverments had solely focused on getting Fenerbahçe's president on their side while AKP doesn't interfere with presidents or top 3 clubs but a little bit supporting another Istanbul team, Basaksehir, which still have way lower budget compared to big 3. It is big 3's stupidity of squad building and team management to let Basaksehir become better than them, not the goverment's mediocre help.

    In Spain, Italy and many other countries, the situation is same. Politics are interfering with football. also Spanish governments supported Madrid over Barcelona for many years. In Italy, Milan has been boosted by Berlusconi.

  19. This was insanely objective and I congratulate you. We should mention that although these stadium constructions did help economic growth, it'll help Turkish football in the international stance. In 2010, Turkey lost the race to host 2016 European Championship to France by 1 vote! The president of UEFA at the time was Michel Platini. These stadiums will help host Euro and perhaps World Cup competitions which was a dream prior to these developments

  20. as a turkish fenerbahce and arsenal fan, you have analysed the situation incredibly well,everything is spot on.Tifo football is surely one of the best football channels on youtube.
    Also can you do a video about fenerbahce's decline in the past 10 years, why the club have not featured in the champions league for over a decade, fake match-fixing scandals, the previous president etc.

  21. This is a great video. Thanks for sharing. I learned a lot about Turkish football in this video than any other video.

  22. I am Turkish living in turkey. This video accurately describes the relationship between football and Turkish politics. It is on point in every area. Fans of beşiktaş football team are more vocal regards to Erdogan's strange policies and time to time charged with 'spreading hate and disturbing tranquility of communities' (which could resulted in 3 year prison sentence). Football and politics are closely interviewed in Turkey. Thank you Tifo and the Blizzard.

  23. Im Turkish and I must admit that your analysis is way better than analysis made by pro government and anti goverment Turks.

  24. in turkey, you either support erdogan or you are a traitor, a terrorist, a foreign agent, an anarchist, a heretic, an enemy of islam and the country

    but erdogan is not a dictator

  25. There was only ONE 'Big Man' in Turkey, who is the founder of Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. There is no 'Big Man' in Turkey anymore!

  26. Well, if the topic is Turkish Football, this should be known:
    The government, all the parties changed cheat law in 2011 in order to protect Fenerbahce. Fenerbahce cheated in 2011 and took the cup. However, it is come out that, they cheated (in fact, it was quite obvious from the matches) and the cheat was proved by UEFA court. Instead of Fenerbahce, they called Trabzonspor to Champions League. Because there was strong proof about Fenerbahce's cheat. Thanks to our "marvellous(!)" justice system, they did not count proofs and did bot count Trabzonspor as a champion where UEFA did.

    That was Erdogan's and other party leaders fault that they did not stand with justice to take more votes from Fenerbahce's fans. Now, Fenerbahce fans are claiming that, the cheat was organized by a terror group, FETO, however, they cannot say proofs are unreal. They are acting as if proofs are not important, it is a fault because FETO revealed them. Does it matter who reveals reality? Proofs are just proofs. Our state decided to change cheat law to protect Fenerbahce's ass.

    Trabzon will remember!

  27. 9:15 in addition to this punishment, in 2014 the metro station which allows the fans of Galatasaray to arive to the stadium was unable to use due to its restoration. It took one year to restore that. During its restoration time, it was so hard to arrive there.

    9:49 passolig cards are linked with a bank whose its owner is so close to Erdogan. So that bank gets revenue from football fans easily and make them their clients.

  28. fantastic composition. needs a little fact checking though. great job on explaining such a complex topic. I remember going to matches when I was young in early 2000's. the game had a SOUL back then. now its all money and disgust.

  29. This is a spot on video on topic of Turkish Football. But it only scratches the surface, but high level components are accurate.

  30. I wish Fenerbahçe did sign him so he would become a footballer instead of going into politics where he caused significant damage to the country.

  31. Why are all the turkish personalities like Yıldırım Demirören and so on drawed like Indians? I don't even wanna talk about Arda Turans tan😂😅

  32. Great video, but I feel like it’s on the edge of being pro-Erdoğan, which is not something to promote, or you’ll be on the wrong side of history, as Erdogan is an evil man who should be taken out of presidency

  33. As a Turk and a Fenerbahçe fan your analysis of Turkish Football is genuinely objective and accurate. Also it is quite disappointing for me to realise that even foreigners grasp Turkish Football better than us i.e Turks. It is our shame that we just sit and watch our beloved sport dies. Anyhow, thank you for this enlightening video. ⚽️

    Oh, by the way you could have used a bit less advanced vocabulary. I mean I had to check the dictionary a lot during the video.

  34. Nice research done here, wasnt excepting this video to be perfect. Few edits: Demirören is not the president anymore, Başakşehir has become the runner up and Galatasaray being champion ( Same results as 17-18 season Galatasaray was first and başakşehir was runner up)

  35. India's PM Modi is a carbon copy of Erdogan. Always pedals fake bullshit claims and idiots keep voting him in.

  36. I saw the video of him in a charity game. He clearly has some skill. More than the average Sunday league player at least.

  37. Typical Turkophobia from the former colonial power of UK ! Hopefully the Turks beat the shit out of the English in every aspect !

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