YAVUZ BAYDAR

It’s a riot

One would think this is a strange place. It sometimes is. But there is certainly »»

One would think this is a strange place. It sometimes is. But there is certainly something wrong when the real issues that concern the world, such as the approaching havoc in Greece and the ever-deepening turmoil in Europe, are completely off the radar in Turkey. Nobody seems to care. The reason is the society’s madness for football.

Well, one would say, football is not only football. It is a reliable mirror that reflects societies. The documentary “Two Escobars,” tells the shockingly tragic story of Colombia, through the stories of Pablo and Andres, who have the same surname, one was one of the biggest drug kingpins in the world, and the other was the best soccer player the country ever produced. Such stories are all about politics, corruption, violence, poverty, injustice. In many ways, football functions as a moral compass by which we can judge society.

That is the reason why the focus of this column, among many others, since last summer has been on scrutinizing Turkish football -- its dark side and how its tentacles reach into various walks of society. What happened over the weekend after the final round of the play-off between archrivals Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray is nothing but the loud echo of how gangrenous the wounds in Turkish football are.

The massive legal investigation launched last year and the following trial on match-rigging came as a shock for all the football barons who had thought that their rule was untouchable. Many of them could not believe that they would be scrutinized at all.

Riots and the destruction after the finals were only the products of this mood, which made the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) powerless, put clubs in an infantile, defensive position, left the government inactive and Turkish sports media was in its usual provocative mood. All, it seems, was staged so that we could witness the meaningless violence of Saturday. Fenerbahçe lost in a surprise ending, Galatasaray insisted (justifiably) to raise the trophy in the rival’s stadium and celebrate, fans and police entered the arena, and then all hell broke loose. There was mayhem, when the trophy could finally be given to the champions in the darkness of the stadium. The next day left the city in a state of cacophony. It was a massive blame game and chain of condemnations, targeting fans, police, club directors, TFF, media etc.

It is, simply a mess, caused by collective hysteria. But the underlying fact is that Turkish football undeniably needs to scrap its rotten elements. The end result at the finals of a troubled, low-quality league is one that highlights the impossibility of governing the leagues politics and the lack of a wise management to find a way out of the mess.

Fanaticism is so widespread that for every defeat the fans seek scapegoats everywhere; for some Fenerbahçe fans it is the Gülenists or what they see as the hostility of the government. Others insist on calling the trial of their “beloved” club directors, a “mock trial.” For the Galatasaray fans the victory is seen as “revenge” for all the cunning conspiracies against their club.

More sadly, they are joined by fanatic journalists, some in key positions as influential pundits, succumb to the temptation for hooligan talk, without giving a thought that it will whip up mass-rage. Some other “big” figures in the media -- such as Mehmet Ali Birand with Galatasaray -- are members of the clubs’ boards, which they are proud to declare despite the fact that their membership conflicts with their professional role. In such a polluted media environment, it is impossible for a handful of unbiased sports commentators to instill calm and common sense.

The longer this madness continues, the stronger it turns into vendetta for all the parties involved. Turkish football is inevitably in a downwards spiral, which the current policy- making of the government and TFF have only made worse. The next question is what will the UEFA do. Given the entire circus, it will have to act, since its credibility will be at stake. But, whatever the UEFA decides, in terms of punishments, the consequences may be worse unless the situation is dealt with resolutely, which ultimately means with “zero tolerance.”

Football, in the Turkish environment, more or less like in Colombia, is about morality. It tests the sanity of the people, as well as its sense of just and unjust. As far as the past 10 months, the test has consistently failed. The only winners are the arrogant barons that rule it and the League TV channel’s owner. You can see where the sense of justice lies: in an open coffin.

2012-05-15

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Columnist:: YAVUZ BAYDAR