Despite protests, derby ban on visiting fans is here to stay

Despite protests, derby ban on visiting fans is here to stay

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Following a hard-fought win over Istanbul BB on Dec. 9, instead of returning to their comfortable homes, a group of Fenerbahçe fans did not leave the stadium for an hour to protest the ban on away fans. Theirs was a just protest of an unfair ban, but in the wake of a brutal meeting between Beşiktaş and Galatasaray in a wheelchair basketball game, the ban seems to be here to stay.

For Fenerbahçe fans at the “Okul Açık,” referring to the formerly open-terrace stands located next to the school outside the stadium, the protest was direct and fair. A week before the Galatasaray derby, in the most intriguing and passionate battle in the Turkish sports scene, Fenerbahçe fans were demanding their right to watch their team play at the Türk Telekom Arena.

According to a ban that was used several times in the last decade and has become a fixture in recent years, no away fans are allowed into matches between the “big three” of Istanbul: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. And the ban is not even limited to football games: The rule has been applied in the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball meetings.

Negative example

Even for the firmest believers of the idea that a football match can only be better with the participation of both sides’ fans, it is getting harder to object to sports authorities’ decision to keep the derbies open to one side only. The fracas that forced the wheelchair basketball match between Galatasaray and Beşiktaş to be called off is the most recent example.

Police used tear gas to disperse brawling supporters at the Ahmet Cömert Sports Hall in Istanbul, while some players were victims of attacks by rival supporters and video footage showed many wheelchairs were broken.

When you see hooliganism jump to wheelchair basketball, a branch whose regular matches are watched by a few dozen fans at best, it is time to call the rivalry between the Istanbul trio plagued. Right now both the Turkish Football Federation and local authorities are aware that opening derby matches to both sides is a recipe for more crowd trouble. But the ban on away fans is just sweeping problems under the carpet: For three teams whose combined fan bases roughly equal 95 percent of Turkish football supporters, the derby problem is Turkey’s problem. However, the ways to tackle the problem appear to be creating bigger liberty problems.

For example, the law on violence in sports, which went into effect last year, included keeping records of every single fan through their national ID numbers. Earlier this year, there were even calls not to let “drunk fans” into games, fueling worries that the law was more about controlling the masses in the stadium than preventing violence.

Probably that is the key: Instead of trying to ban all the fans, they could be finding those who are responsible for fights and keep them out. Instead of trying to dwell on who has drunk before a game, they could focus on who has a knife with him – quite a familiar scene in Turkish football. Until a proper policy against sports violence comes, even the ban will not prevent riots, even though the ban is here to stay.