'Football is passion in Turkey. People started to lose that passion.'

Turkish journalist Bilgehan Uçak has told Ahval that political interference and economic problems are damaging Turkish football

Speaking to John Lubbock on the Made in Turkey podcast, Uçak compared the economic situation in 2010 and 2020, and said that the match fixing scandal in 2011 was not the main reason that attendances have fallen in the Turkish football leagues.

“The match fixing scandal didn't make us distrust the league because we didn't trust it enough before that. We always had some questions on our mind, but in that year we saw it. In that year, 2012, the attendances didn't go down. What I think is, the main reason is the purchasing power of Turkish people.”

''When a family wants to go to the stadium, the cheapest ticket cost will be 200 TL for them, they may eat outside, buy something official. So at the end of the day, they will spend at least 500 TL, which is the quarter of the salary in Turkey. But it was not like this before. In 2010, it was again 50 TL for a ticket, but we could spend that money on our hobbies. The yearly income per person was $12,000 in 2013, and now it became $8500. So now, everybody steps away from the stadiums because it is expensive”, Ucak said.

Uçak and Lubbock discussed the recent success of İstanbul Başakşehir F.K., who won the Turkish Super Lig for the first time in 2020, becoming only the 6th club to win the trophy. Başakşehir has been heavily supported by the Turkish government, but has the lowest average attendance figures in the Turkish Super Lig. Uçak said clubs like Başakşehir and Osmanlispor, a club from Ankara who had also been supported by the Turkish government, were not real clubs.

After the resignation of Melih Gökçek, the AKP mayor of Ankara, in 2019, Osmanlispor’s funding was cut, and they were relegated from the SuperLig. The club have now changed their name to Ankaraspor.

“Melih Gökçek was defeated and we don’t have any Osmanlispor anymore. The same will happen on the day that Tayyip Erdogan stops ruling the country. If he is defeated one day, the next year we will face the reality that Başakşehir has never existed. There was not a club called Başakşehir in Turkish history, it was an illusion that we thought that there was a club called Başakşehir”, Uçak said.

“A real club is not for laughing, it's for supporting. Başakşehir is not a real club”, he added.

Football in Turkey has long had a political dimension. Football “is part of an economic patronage network in Turkish society. Because the presidents of the clubs are elected, you can have someone who is a politician or a rich businessman who gets elected, and they can also use that official role as president of the club to also give contracts to their friends and promote themselves to the electorate of the city”, Lubbock said.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.