When the Turkish women’s national volleyball team earned a ticket to the 2012 London Olympics last Sunday, they not only became first team to represent Turkey at the Olympics in 52 years, but also the first women’s team to do so, which is a record-breaking accomplishment for female athletes in Turkey.
Never in Turkey’s sports history has the number of women athletes gotten even close to the turnout of male athletes in the Olympics until now, Turkish women are now on the verge of beating their male counterparts when it comes to Turkish representation at the Olympics. So far, 82 athletes have earned tickets to represent Turkey at the London Olympics, 41 women and 41 men. Yet women are poised to outnumber men if the women’s national basketball team manages to earn the Olympic berth in the qualification tournament in Ankara in June. Turkey’s chances are remarkably high since five out of the 12 teams competing will make it to London. The number of athletes to qualify will continue to increase until July, when the countries submit their final list of athletes.
“Considering Turkey’s population of more than 74 million, this figure is still low,” Turkish National Olympics Committee (TMOK) Secretary-General Neşe Gündoğan told Sunday’s Zaman. Acknowledging the magnitude of the success especially in terms of serving as a catalyst for the future of women in sport in Turkey, Gündoğan said this accomplishment will clear the way for the coming generations of female athletes in the country.
“It is important for the motivation of our women,” she said. “But still this number should be more than 100 for women alone.”
Since its entrance into the Olympics in 1908, Turkey has won a total of 82 medals -- 37 golds, 23 silvers and 22 bronzes – all in the Summer Olympics.
Turkish female athletes first appeared at the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936, but it was not until 1992 that a female athlete won a medal. There were 20 female athletes representing Turkey at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Hülya Şenyurt won a bronze medal in judo in Barcelona at the age of 19, also being the first-ever Turkish judoka to win an Olympic medal.
According to Şenyurt, her generation of athletes lacked Olympic spirit. She remembers celebrating her European bronze medal with more elation than she did after winning an Olympic bronze. Therefore she said, in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, that the current generation of athletes is luckier than the previous generations ever were.
Şenyurt underscored that Turkey’s women are more successful in international sports competition than Turkey’s men.
“Women are more stable and ambitious. We can better focus on a target,” she said, adding that Turkish women have a competitive and self-confident character. “Even though men dominate sports, women are more successful,” she said confidently.
Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç praised the determination of Turkish women at an event to commemorate former Olympic medal-winning athletes of the country this week. “We expect a gold medal from the women’s national volleyball team. I believe the women’s basketball team will qualify for London as well,” he said, Kılıç also praised two female athletes, Neslihan Yiğit -- the first badminton player to participate in the Olympics from Turkey -- and Duygu Üçtaş, for qualifying to participate in the 2012 Olympic games.
He recalled a Turkish proverb, “Meddling in men’s affairs with dough on her hands,” a pejorative expression used to explain women engaged in areas traditionally dominated by men, has already lost its validity and acceptability. “The status of women in society has changed. This number is a clear example of this,” he said.
Şenyurt, currently a judo trainer for the Turkish junior national team in the Black Sea province of Ordu, also cited women’s changing role in society as one of the major reasons behind the Olympic success. “Women still remain in the background because of our patriarchal society. Still I am grateful for many things, and it’s getting better for women,” she said.
It is also not only changes in domestic ideas about women but also the changing policy of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in regards to female athletes that is assisting the steady rise of Turkish women in this “feast of sport.” TMOK’s Gündoğan recalled that for the first time in the history of the Olympics, all Olympic sport categories will feature competitions for women. “The women were absent in wrestling and boxing, for example. The number of female athletes increased worldwide,” she said.
Gündoğan added that more female participation from Turkey is possible by providing young girls with a good sports education and ensuring they have qualified coaches to help them along the way. “Turkish women have the potential. The most important thing is to get them started from a very young age.”
Olympic authority challenges gender inequality in sports
“A male-dominated sports culture is reigning in our country,” Turkish National Olympic Committee (TMOK) board member Sema Kasapoğlu was quoted as saying in a book released this week regarding the country’s Olympic plans for the future. Turkey’s Olympic authority, in an attempt to break this long-standing situation, will focus on the elimination of gender-based inequality in sports as part of its 2012-2016 strategic plan. The committee underscores that it aims to encourage women to become athletes as well as work in sports-related fields. The TMOK also aims to cooperate with the Family and Social Policy Ministry concerning the issue in addition to other plans such as holding an International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting on women and sports in Turkey as well as related seminars.