‘Football is never only football’

‘Football is never only football’

I borrowed the title from the Turkish version of Simon Kuper’s 1994 famous book “Football Against the Enemy,” a manuscript that rightly described how a simple game had turned into an obsession throughout the entire world, affecting the lives of billions as well as affecting politics and economics.

The Turkish experience is not different. For millions of Turkish fans, football and the clubs they support make up one of the main important pillars of their lives. For many, being a supporter of prominent Turkish clubs like Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray or Beşiktaş identifies them more than any ideological or political or even sectarian or ethnic stance does.

As a lucrative business that affects millions of people, the football industry also has close links with politics. That was how four political parties, which cannot agree on anything, came together to introduce a draft law reducing penalties for match-fixing crimes. (The Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] later withdrew its signature on the law.)

“I still do not understand how all parties could unite on this,” Şamil Tayyar, journalist-turned-lawmaker from the ranks of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. “There has to be a potent force that brought these parties to their knees,” he said, targeting alleged Ergenekon gang-related circles within the deep state.

Tayyar argued the attempt to reduce the penalties sought for match fixers would also weaken the Ergenekon case without introducing concrete evidence on the links between those accused of the rigging scandal and Ergenekon plotters.

Different from how Tayyar reads the situation, one could also dig out other aspects of the political faceoff between the president and the other parties. The three parties, which have enforced the draft law, announced they will still back the bill despite the fact that President Abdullah Gül vetoed it.
In an obvious interpretation, one could estimate the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) are aiming at muddling the ruling party by ruining its relationship with the president.

It is equally interesting to see that this disagreement has emerged at a moment when some influential columnists have already started to talk about a post-Erdoğan era at the AKP in 2014, which, of course, highlights a sort of Putin-Medvedev swap for Erdoğan and Gül.

One other aspect is the fact that this draft law also divided the AKP group in an unprecedented way. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç surprisingly departed for Indonesia late Dec. 6 for a week-long trip, a move that came following his firm statement against the government-proposed law. Deputy leader of the AKP Hüseyin Çelik, number two of the party, is also known for his opposition to this law. No need to re-mention Şamil Tayyar.

The draft law will either be re-sent to the presidency without amendments or will pass through cosmetic changes in Parliament. In any case, this process will have repercussions for the AKP in a manner proving the title of this humble piece.