Dear sponsors, please let Turkish football die

Dear sponsors, please let Turkish football die

While Turkey seems to be on a downward path in democracy, freedom of speech and fighting against corruption, the situation of the country’s football is no different.

A recent decision by one of Turkey’s largest holding companies has dealt the latest blow to the “beautiful game,” which had already been troubled with rumors and investigations on match fixing, fan violence, plummeting spectator numbers, subpar performances of the national team, etc.

Murat Ülker, the chairman of Yıldız Holding, which has poured around $215 million into football in the last nine years as the main sponsor of the national team and Istanbul clubs Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, informed the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) in a letter that they his company will no longer continue its financial support to Turkish football.

His reasons were logical.

“Violence, fighting and tension have become associated with the game. The brand value of football has dramatically decreased and matches have lost their attractiveness, with stadiums being empty and the overall atmosphere not matching with the concept of fair play,” Ülker said.

Speaking to Habertürk, the businessman, whose aggressive strategy of growing abroad resulted in the acquisitions of Godiva and United Biscuits, particularly slammed the e-ticketing system Passolig.

“No one wants their information to be collected, even by the state; this is disturbing,” he said, echoing the concerns of many football supporter groups, who have been boycotting the games and waiting for the result of a complaint referred to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the system violates the privacy of personal data.

Passolig is one of the many stupid things that Turkish football has recently witnessed. Even top league clubs have had problems in landing lucrative sponsorship deals, with some even starting the season without any ads on the players’ jerseys.

One team in the Spor Toto Super League is officially called “Suat Altın İnşaat Kayseri Erciyesspor,” after a deal with a local construction firm. For Mr. Suat Altın, the owner of the firm, the cost of having a club with your name playing in the country’s top league is only about $750,000.  

National team coach Fatih Terim painted a very grim picture of Turkish football on Jan. 7, at a meeting with the coaches of the professional clubs in Turkey.

“Football in this country is, unfortunately, not moving in the right direction and we can observe this in all areas,” said the experienced coach, who is responsible for all levels of the national team. However, he was talking as if he was a man who has just started the job and was faced with a disastrous situation.

Not only he has been in the post for 14 months, but he has been one of the strongest figures in Turkish football since he started coaching Galatasaray in the mid-1990s. If football is moving in the wrong direction, then Terim is one of the people who steered it there.

But of course, the real awful driver here is TFF chair Yıldırım Demirören. He was elected to his post in the aftermath of the July 3, 2011 match-fixing scandal, in a congress overshadowed by political interference.

Four clubs involved in the match-fixing allegations - Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş, Eskişehirspor and Sivasspor - were banned from European competitions by UEFA on charges of “trying to influence the outcome of a match.” But they managed to avoid sanctions in Turkey, thanks to the efforts of Demirören, whose main task was to cover up the allegations “to save the brand value of Turkish football.”

The situation of football in this country is so messed up that it looks like there is no way to raise it back to its previous standards. If other sponsors follow Ülker’s footsteps, accompanied by the continued boycott of the supporters, Turkish football might have a chance to die in peace, rather than struggling to survive in such dire conditions. Maybe then we can have a chance to reclaim the “beautiful game” cleared of violence, politics and match fixing.

If not, we always have wrestling, “the sport of our ancestors.”