Mario Gomez’s decision to leave Besiktas because of political turbulence following a failed coup attempt in Turkey against President Recep Erdogan is another example of how inseparable sport and politics really are.
Even though Turkey has said citizens could go on with normal life following a three-month emergency being declared, Gomez, 31, posted on social media that he would be exiting the league champions. “It is purely down to the terrible events that happened in the last few days,” The Guardian has quoted Gomez as saying. Gomez’s decision comes not long after a flip-flop by Lukas Podolski, another Germany international, on quitting Galatasaray.
It was while on loan from Fiorentina to Besiktas that Gomez scored 26 goals and was recalled to the German national team for Euro 2016. Gomez’s injury against Italy in the quarter-finals hobbled Germany against France in the semi-final because for all their possession, the world champions looked like they missed a No.9.
“I have to tell you Besiktas fans personally that it is very heavy for me that I will not be playing for this great club in front of you wonderful fans in this unique stadium anymore,” said Gómez.
More than a stadium inauguration
That stadium, the Vodafone Arena, was inaugurated on April 10 with Erdogan and a lot of political heavyweights in attendance but citing security concerns, the public was kept out.
“Celebrations of the opening reflected the government’s long-standing effort to control soccer in a bid to suppress the pitch’s role as a gathering place for critics of Mr. Erdogan, a former semi-professional player, amid a crackdown on all expressions of dissent in the country. They also mirrored Mr. Erdogan’s effort to manipulate the sport to further his megalomaniac sense of glory,” wrote James Dorsey in his blog post last May. Dorsey is the author of ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.
Quite like Barcelona in the time of General Franco’s military rule, football in Turkey has mirrored political developments. In 2011, the match-fixing scandal at Fenerbache saw a political tussle for control of its millions of supporters. Last month, Hakan Sukur, the country’s biggest football star whose record for the fastest goal in a World Cup is now 14 years old, went on trial accusing Erdogan of corruption.
Now living in the USA, Sukur was elected to parliament on a ticket provided by Erdogan’s party, AKP, before falling out and joining forces with Islamist preacher Fethullalh Gulen who has been accused of plotting last week’s coup. AKP has been in power since 2002.
In the same post, Dorsey wrote about Kurds rallying around a football club that has been punching above its weight in the city of Diyarbakir, 675km from Ankara, how the police stopped selling jerseys which have Kurdistan written on them and how political slogans have been banned at football stadia.
There have also been efforts to ban Carsi, the Besiktas ultras’ group founded in 1982, on charges of abetting terrorism and attempting a coup. The government sought prison sentences for 35 members including Carsi founder Cem Yakiskan but in December 2015, they were absolved of all charges. The government has appealed against the acquittal.
“We laughed at the situation, so as not to cry,” Yakistan was quoted as saying in the website Vice Sports last February. “The judge said, ‘You are here for attempting to stage a political coup’. If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have used it to make Beşiktaş champions!”
And long before the unsuccessful putsch, theories of how a gang of conspirators are using football to destablise the country have been floated in the media.
Besiktas’ first match at the new stadium on April 11, against Bursapor, though had fans chanting anti-government slogans and referring to the 2013 Gezi Park protests that begun as a green movement but snowballed into one against the government. Carsi was at the forefront of the movement but were joined by supporters of rival football clubs.
“The fans are not violent just to be violent – they are violent because they want to be heard, and because the government and the federation oppress them with laws and regulations,” said Emir Guney, Director of the Sports Studies Research Centre at Kadir Has University, in an interview with Middle East Eye which Dorsey quoted.