Jan 07 2019

Kanter spars with Turkish basketball chief over London spy comments

Hidayet Türkoğlu, the president of Turkey’s basketball federation, levelled harsh criticism at New York Knicks centre Enes Kanter after the Turkish basketball player told reporters he would not travel to London with his team as he feared assassination by Turkish spies.

"Sadly, I'm not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president," Kanter said last week. "There’s a chance that I can get killed out there.”

Kanter is a member of the Gülen religious movement, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says attempted to overthrow his government in a botched coup attempt in July 2016.

The basketball player has been outspoken about his religious beliefs, and is one of the many high profile followers of Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen, the movement’s leader, who face legal action in Turkey.

However, Türkoğlu said, it is not the threat of death that prevented Kanter from making the journey to London but a lack of papers.

“We know his visa problem has prevented him travelling to a great many countries since 2017,” said Türkoğlu. “So it isn’t down to fears for the safety of his life but down to his visa and passport problems that he can’t go to England.”

The Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport and has issued an arrest warrant for him.

Türkoğlu went on to accuse Kanter of running a campaign against Turkey with political statements that he said were designed to raise his own profile.

“While (Kanter’s passport problems) are already well known, for him to make these mindless excuses and political comments is just an attempt to seize the agenda,” the Turkish basketball president said.

Kanter was quick to hit back at Türkoğlu, sharing an image on Twitter that showed his U.S.-issued travel document.

"I CAN go to London. Either you are delusional, or still Erdogan’s lap dog.. Keep wagging your tail," Kanter said in the accompanying tweet.


Türkoğlu, whose Twitter profile features a photograph of him with Erdoğan, had not responded at the time of publication.

Ankara has so far been denied the extradition of Gülen from the United States, where he has been resident since 1999. However, a U.S. delegation visited Ankara last week to invstigate Turkish claims on the preacher’s involvement in the coup attempt.