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May 27, 2012, Sunday

When a call for fairness and reason finds acceptance

It appears that everybody is sick of the same problem. It seems that everybody has run out of patience for fanaticism in sports. It turns out that the propaganda campaigns marginal groups have been waging for months over soccer are bothering everyone.

What did a small but organized group say? “The Gülen movement is trying to seize control of the Fenerbahçe football club.” This was an absurd allegation. However, this propaganda, carried out in cyberspace and rehearsed at illegal demonstrations, has influenced many people. And the rest is known: car-burnings, Molotov cocktails and random attacks. The chaos that accompanied this propaganda upset everyone in the country. It was not possible to explain away what happened by reference to the emotions of fans. Did the marginal groups care? Never! They used every opportunity for the fulfillment of their goals.

But finally, a brave and courageous voice arose from within Fenerbahçe. The Zaman daily ran a headline that read “Call for fairness and reason” twice last week. Those who truly love Fenerbahçe took a crucial position and made an effort for the best of the club, saying, “Enough.” Fenerbahçe Deputy Chairman Nihat Özdemir, Vice President Cihan Kamer and former Chairman Ali Şen -- all people who have served the best interests of Fenerbahçe for many years -- realized that the propaganda that was being spread via hostility to the Gülen movement was hurting Fenerbahçe and the country as well. It was due to this that they became the voice of reason.

When the true Fenerbahçe supporters spoke out, marginal groups who were trying to gain influence in the club were caught red-handed. They were the same figures who carried a banner at a May 1 rally that included offensive remarks about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen. News reports calling for fairness and reason gave up on plots and plans by those who sought to influence public opinion through organized action in cyberspace.

In fact, many social groups have been trying to politicize our sports clubs for a while now. Some extreme left-leaning organizations have attempted to take our clubs hostage by referencing a secularist discourse, even though these clubs are inherently open to all. Here is one of the most striking examples: The prime minister just had a surgery and he was recovering. At the time, legendary Fenerbahçe player Lefter Küçükandonyadis died. The prime minister attended a ceremony held at Fenerbahçe’s stadium in honor of this great player. Some extremists booed the prime minister, hiding behind the club’s jersey. Why? Which Fenerbahçe fan (or human being) could justify such arrogance at a funeral?

Those who took a step back following the prime minister’s strong negative reaction to such behavior in the stadium instead chose Gülen as a target. This was a wise a move considering there have already been some attempts to extend support for this sneaky propaganda.

Do you know what is even more alarming? Even nice people who have no connection to such marginal groups and who fear Allah and the Judgment Day have made such mistakes out of fanaticism. For this reason, some stated that the propaganda has reached such a point where the wrath of God could be imminent. This was indeed so. Extending support for persons who insult and offend millions of innocent people means violating their rights. It is impossible to justify this if one keeps in mind reason, fairness, conscience, faith or the Judgment Day.

Once the mindset of people becomes unstable, they declare affiliation with a sports club and make it a main source of their identity and assert the superiority of this identity in a virtual space. By whose standards does this become a superior identity? If everybody’s club becomes their main identity, what sacred values will remain for all people to cling to? What should we tell people who have given in to temporary insanity so that they can better understand that being human is their main identity and that people develop different identities based on sacred symbols and values, including religion, homeland, culture and human rights?

Once I was close friend with a famous soccer trainer. I never forgot what he used to tell the players right before the game. It was a simple but meaningful statement: “Enjoy the game!” Soccer is a game, and it is a nice game. But it is not a religion and stadiums are not temples. Likewise, the administrators are not sacred. Soccer is an arena for socializing that captures the attention and interest of people through its unique dynamism and ethical principles. Disrupting this platform means violating the principle of fair play.

Reasonable fans should not allow the politicization of sports clubs, and they should make sure that sports matters are not taken into the political sphere so that they can be manipulated by marginal groups. And they will not. The best proof of this is the headline “Call to fairness” from true Fenerbahçe fans. This headline, which spoke to the conscience of the people, relieved many in society, whereas it also created a panic among extremist groups. This means that the headline has served a good purpose. It is necessary to move forward on this path and revive reason, ethics, modesty, brotherhood and friendship in sports.

Culprits of fanaticism

Soccer is not a religion, nor is it an ideology. It is a nice opportunity to make life more colorful, to spend time together and to bring people from different backgrounds in one place. Some take it out of its context and use it to construct a toxic atmosphere. A philosophy that suggests everything should be done for the sake of winning a game refers to a game as war, opponents as the enemy, a win as a victory, defeat as catastrophe, a stadium as a temple, administrators as saviors, players as heroes and players on the opposing team as traitors. And in doing so, noble notions of fair play are ignored. Once everything is justifiable in an attempt to win, soccer becomes a platform for the mafia and illegal organizations.

Some hold serious responsibility for the current situation in soccer. For instance, take club administrators. Could you say that they symbolize the spirit of fair play for the fans? Fanatics and sports media have accused administrators who acted reasonably of pacifism. And even many administrators are fanatics. It is only natural that people who see a soccer team as their identity will suffer from a kind of trauma in the end because there is no such thing as winning all the time. In this country, the spirit of sportsmanship should be revived. For instance, you cannot be a true fan or a player if you do not respect your opponent. You should prove that winning is not everything once the game is over so that sports can become meaningful. The winner should act gracefully, whereas the loser should congratulate the winner. This should be the case. In our country, winners take to the streets, provoking their opponents and celebrating championships so loudly that the elderly are disturbed.

Unfortunately, the media has committed the greatest sin concerning the emergence of fanaticism and related acts of violence. Soccer commentary has become based on the notion that “you become popular if you make aggressive statements.” Everything has been done for the sake of TV ratings or popularity. Fanaticism has been promoted and people have been provoked. The result is obvious. There is an old saying, “Thousands of dogs are better than a calamity.” The whole matter should be reconsidered in its entirety. The media should act more responsibly; administrators should act more responsibly; and players should honor the ethical rules of sportsmanship. Otherwise, the overall course of events will not yield a pleasant outcome.

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