HomeNFLFootball fan Erdogan’s team Fenerbahce considers Turkish top league walkout

Football fan Erdogan’s team Fenerbahce considers Turkish top league walkout

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could face the embarrassment of seeing the Istanbul football team he follows, Fenerbahce, withdrawing from Turkey’s top football league.

Fenerbahce said on March 19 that the club board would consider the move following the events of the weekend in which fans ran on to the field and attacked players who were celebrating a 3-2 win over Trabzonspor following a late goal. Live coverage of Fenerbahce’s Sunday away match at Papara Park in Trabzon, northeastern Turkey, showed at least one spectator brandishing a knife before attacking Fenerbahce’s Bright Osayi-Samuel, a Nigerian-British right winger. Osayi-Samuel and a security guard brought down the fan but tens of others then leapt over stadium barriers to confront and attack him and his team-mates.

Turkish football has been beset by a string of incidents involving unprecedented violence that has sprung to world attention. In December, the game in Turkey was rocked when, in a fury after the final whistle, the president of Ankara club MKE Ankaragucu ran on to the pitch and punched a referee to the ground.

After the weekend episode, Trabzonspor coach Abdullah Avci said: “We are going through a period that Turkish football is now completely fed by chaos, where tensions are constantly high, and where we cannot use the healing power of football.”

Ismail Kartal, the manager of Fenerbahce—one of the Big Three Istanbul clubs along with Galatasaray and Besiktas—added: “I don’t understand why this place [the stadium] is so tense. Don’t we have the right to celebrate? We need to overcome these things. We need to be tolerant towards each other and have common sense.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the clash was “absolutely unacceptable”.

“I have said it before, and I will say it again—without exception, in football, all players have to be safe and secure to play the game which brings such joy to so many people all over the world,” he said.

Borsa Istanbul-listed Fenerbahce said the club would hold an extraordinary general assembly on April 2 to consider the proposal to leave Turkey’s top league, the Super Lig.

Withdrawal or not, the stigma surrounding Turkish football following a string of unprecedented violence involving incidents in the stands and on the pitch must be discomfiting for Erdogan, a former semi-professional footballer who grew up supporting Fenerbahce and has claimed that the club once moved to sign him.

Twelve fans were detained and 38 others identified as having been involved in the incidents after the Trabzonspor-Fenerbahce match would also be detained, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc wrote on platorm X. No players had been charged, he added.

The TV broadcasting rights holder for the Turkish Super Lig is BeIN Sports, a unit of Qatari media company BeIN Media. Nearly a third of its roughly 1.3mn football TV subscribers are estimated to be Fenerbahce fans, according to Bloomberg.

BeIN TV channels’ advertisers include companies owned by Fenerbahce chairman Ali Koc’s Koc Holding, Turkey’s largest conglomerate. They include white goods maker Arcelik, Ford Otomotiv Sanayi and Yapi Kredi Bankasi.

Super Lig is the seventh-largest league in Europe. Its combined club revenue stands at €533mn, according to UEFA’s 2023 finance and investment report. Analysts say the league’s value has declined in recent years because of a lack of success by Turkish clubs in European competition and a failure to secure large sponsorships.

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