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“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

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"James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Qatar to cut ‘one third’ of World Cup stadiums (JMD quoted on Al Arabiya

Qatar to cut ‘one third’ of World Cup stadiums

Qatar originally planned 12 stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. (Photo courtesy: Qatar 2022 Bid Committee)
Qatar is to slash the number of stadiums it builds for the 2022 World Cup, according to reports, with the local tournament organizer confirming the number of grounds is under review.
The country originally set out plans for 12 football stadiums, including three refurbished grounds. But it has now cut that to eight, according to statements by Ghanim al-Kuwari, the organizing committee’s senior manager for projects, quoted by Bloomberg.
Kuwari did not give a reason for the reduction, which comes at a time of rising costs and several controversies surrounding Qatar's hosting of the tournament.
The Qatar World Cup committee confirmed to Al Arabiya News that the final selection of venues is still under review.
“For Qatar, the process of selecting the final proposed line-up of host venues is ongoing. In due course, the final proposal for stadia will be submitted to the FIFA Executive Committee for approval. The requirement is a minimum of eight and a maximum of 12 stadia,” the Qatar committee said in a statement.
A committee spokesman confirmed that Qatar’s original bid included 12 stadiums. He said it was normal for plans outlined in a bid to be reviewed once a country is chosen as host.
But James Dorsey, author of a blog and related book entitled The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, said it is rare for World Cup hosts to change plans indicated in their original bids.
“Qatar signalled last year that it was considering reducing the number of stadia. It has to do so in consultation with FIFA. Normally, hosts stick to the plans they submitted as part of their bid,” Dorsey said. “Qatar will obviously have to justify this and demonstrate that a reduction will not impact the tournament.”
Relevant factors include the time of year when the World Cup will be held (still undecided in Qatar’s case), the ability to cool venues should the tournament be held in summer months, and broadcasting schedules, Dorsey said.
The commentator added that he would be “surprised” if cost were the main issue behind any decision to cut the number of venues.
Qatar is embarking on a massive infrastructure outlay ahead of the 2022 tournament, set to cost more than $200 billion. The stadiums will cost $4 billion, according to the ministry of business and trade cited by Bloomberg.
Yet the Gulf state has faced rising costs and pressure from campaigners over its treatment of foreign workers.
Other controversies surrounding Qatar's hosting of the World Cup include allegations that almost $2 million was paid to a senior FIFA official and his family just after the Gulf state won its controversial bid.
The Qatar 2022 World Cup committee denied any wrongdoing in the wake of those allegations.
Last Update: Monday, 21 April 2014 KSA 12:01 - GMT 09:01

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Workers’ Cup 2014 speeds to the finals (JMD quoted in Doha News)

Posted: 20 Apr 2014 02:25 AM PDT
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All photos courtesy of Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
With reporting from Ankita Menon
It was a rough weekend for several teams competing in the second annual Workers’ Cup, as the playing field was narrowed from eight to four teams.
Gulf Contracting Co. and Out Look will face off in the semi-finals on Friday, as will Amana and Tanzifco Co WLL. The matches will most likely take place at the Al Wakra Sports Club, and are free and open to the public.
So far, thousands of people have turned out to support the teams, which are comprised of workers from several companies around Qatar. The finals, which will be held on Friday, May 2, may be played at a stadium, organizers told Doha News.
A spokesman for the QSports League, which is overseeing the tournament, said the motivation for holding such an event is to help the nation (host of the 2022 World Cup) become a “sports hub.”
“We are building the momentum for Fifa 2022 by engaging the working communities in sports activities,” he said.


According to a different QSL organizer who spoke to Doha News during the inaugural season last year, the goal is also to integrate a large segment of Qatar’s population with the rest of the community.
The tournament also addresses a common complaint among Qatar’s hundreds of thousands of working class residents about a lack of recreational options here. These men, who are usually here without their families, are often turned away from malls and other public areas on Fridays, their one day off a week.
Holding sports tournaments for this demographic are a relatively novel concept, According to James Dorsey, who writes for MidEast Soccer. Last year, he said the idea of such a tournament could be seen as a “small but not insignificant” step forward in terms of improving human rights for this vulnerable group.

Syrian jihadists employ soccer as propaganda and recruitment tool

By James M. Dorsey

Jihadists, often eager to exploit soccer for their ideological goals, have found a new way of employing the game for propaganda and recruitment purposes. A recent jihadist video suggested that an apparent Portuguese fighter in Syria was a former French international who had played for British premier league club Arsenal.

The video exploited the physical likeness of a masked jihadist fighter believed to be Celso Rodrigues Da Costa, to that of French international Lassana Diarra. Voice analysis suggested however that the man brandishing an AK-47 weapon in the clip was Mr. Da Costa, a Portuguese national who had lived in East London for some time and may have attended youth coaching sessions at Arsenal. Mr. Diarra played for Arsenal before moving to Lokomotiv Moscow.

Mr. Da Costa would be the third London-based Portuguese national to have joined the Syrian jihad.  Last October, Burak Karan, an up and coming German-Turkish soccer star, was killed during a Syrian military raid on anti-Bashar al Assad rebels near the Turkish border. Messrs. D Costa and Karan joined a list of soccer players-turned-militants who have gone to the Middle East and North Africa or had roots in the region or in Islam. They are among thousands of Europeans believed to have joined the war in Syria.

In the eight-minute video posted on, a website associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), one of the most militant jihadist groups in Syria, Mr. Da Costa, using the nomme de guerre Abu Isa Andaluzi and speaking with a heavy accent, urged others to join the jihadists.

A caption under the video posting read; “A former soccer player - Arsenal of London - who left everything for jihad.” Another text said: "He... played for Arsenal in London and left soccer, money and the European way of life to follow the path of Allah.”

On camera, Mr. Da Costa said: "My advice to you first of all is that we are in need of all types of help from those who can help in fighting the enemy. Welcome, come and find us and from those who think that they cannot fight they should also come and join us for example because it maybe that they can help us in something else, for example help with medicine, help financially, help with advice, help with any other qualities and any other skills they might have, and give and pass on this knowledge, and we will take whatever is beneficial and that way they will participate in jihad."

Mr. Da Costa’s projection of himself as a soccer star signalled an apparent perception among jihadists that three years after the capture and killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden the movement is in need of celebrities. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri, a dour 62-year old medical doctor in hiding, doesn’t quite cut it as a charismatic figure.

Jihadists “have finally embraced the idea that nothing can truly be put into perspective today unless it is filtered through the prism of our own fametastic Premier League,” The Guardian quipped n a satirical editorial.

Soccer has long served jihadists as a recruitment and bonding tool. It brings recruits into the fold, encourages camaraderie and reinforces militancy among those who have already joined.

Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel traced their roots a decade ago to a West Bank soccer team. The 2004 Madrid train bombers played the beautiful game together and several Saudi players joined the anti-American jihad in Iraq following a fatwa or religious ruling by conservative Muslim preachers denouncing football as a game of the infidels.

In Russia, authorities three years ago arrested three men on charges of wanting to blow up the high speed Sapsan railway linking Moscow and St Petersburg. The three were childhood friends who traced their roots to the northern Caucasus, a hotbed of Islamist militancy, where they played soccer together.

Mr. Da Costa’s video adds propaganda or what The Guardian called “an exciting development in jihadist PR” to the jihadist toolkit even if it was not immediately clear whether he and Mr. Karan were driven to give up potential or promising soccer careers by a radical interpretation of Islam or a deep-seated humanitarian concern for the victims of brutal wars like that in Syria.

What Messrs. Da Costa and Karan however shared with players-turned-jihadists as well as various jihadist leaders including Mr. Bin Laden, Hamas Gaza foreman Ismail Haniyeh and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is a deep-seated passion for the sport and that their road towards militancy often involved an action-oriented activity, soccer.

Messrs, Da Costa and Karan’s cases appear nevertheless more similar to those of players Yann Nsaku or Nizar ben Abdelaziz Trabelsi, individuals who radicalized, rather than the Hamas or Madrid bombers or the Saudi players who turned militant in the context of a group.

Mr. Nsaku, a Congolese born convert to Islam and former Portsmouth FC youth centre back, was one of 11 converts arrested in France in 2012 on suspicion of being violent jihadists who were plotting anti-Semitic attacks.

Mr. Trabelsi, , a Tunisian who played for Germany’s Fortuna Düsseldorf and FC Wuppertal, was arrested and convicted in Belgium a decade ago on charges of illegal arms possession and being a member of a private militia. Mr. Trabelsi was sentenced to ten years in prison.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Experts say Russia-Iran barter deal harmful (JMD quoted)

Experts say Russia-Iran barter deal harmful

By Sara Rajabova
Iran is in talks with Russia on bartering the Iranian oil with Russian goods, which has caused concerns of some countries, especially the United States.
Negotiations on Russia-Iran barter deal came up while the West is angry with Russia over the events in Ukraine, and the six world powers and Iran are trying to bridge the gaps and prepare the final deal.
Iran and Russia have been discussing various ways of increasing bilateral trade, including Moscow possibly taking up to 500,000 barrels a day of the Iranian oil in exchange for Russian goods needed by Iran.
Washington said such a deal would go against the terms of the interim nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran, reached in Geneva in last November.
In case Russia and Iran's barter deal happens, the U.S. senators have threatened to reinstate Iran sanctions that were eased under the Geneva deal.
The senators said if Iran moves forward with this effort to evade U.S. sanctions and violate the terms of the oil sanctions relief, the United States will respond by re-instating the oil sanctions, rigorously enforcing significant reductions in global purchases of Iranian crude oil.
However, Russia doesn't take the United States' concerns and warnings too seriously. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said recently that any oil-for-goods deal between Moscow and Iran would follow the United Nations' rules on sanctions, not the U.S.
Speaking about the possibility of the Russia-Iran barter deal, some experts believe that such deal will not be in Iran's interests.
Commenting on the issue, professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University Kamran Dadkhah told AzerNews that even if the United States does not reinstate the sanctions, the oil-for-goods deal with Russia will damage Iran.
Dadkhah said if the U.S. reinstates the sanctions, Iran's loss would be even greater.
"There are two ways to look at this oil-for-goods deal. It may be a political move by Iran to have a bargaining chip during the nuclear negotiations with P5+1 group. As such, it cannot and will not go through.But Iran may ask for more speedy removal of sanctions from the United States and Europe in return for not pursuing the deal. But if Iran is serious about going through with the deal as an economic move, then it is a grave mistake and will bring nothing but loss for Iran," Dadkhah noted.
He said Iran has always been the loser in any transactions with Russia. "Consider the Bushehr nuclear power plant that seems to be taking forever to start operation or the deal on the Caspian Sea resources, where Russia deprived Iran of its share," Dadkhah said.
He said in the case of oil-for-goods deal, it should be taken into consideration that Russia is one of the three top oil producers in the world along with the United States and Saudi Arabia. "Thus, Russia does not need Iran's oil and has to sell the 500,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran to its own clients.Therefore, Russia will insist on receiving the oil at a price far below the international market price. On the other hand, Russia is not the supplier of the goods and material that Iran needs," Dadkhah underlined.
Furthermore, he noted that in barter agreements, Russia can try to sell its low-quality products to Iran.
"We have observed this in case of Iran-China trade, where China has flooded Iran's market with low-quality goods that Iran itself could produce. In a trade agreement, both sides will benefit if they are on an equal footing. But if one side has the upper hand (in this case Russia) it can impose its will to the detriment of the other side," the expert said.
Dadkhah stressed that in the barter trade, this situation is worse for the side with lower bargaining power.
"Thus, for the sake of the Iranians, let us assume that this is only a bargaining chip and nothing more," he added.
Speaking about the possibility of Russia-Iran deal, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies James M. Dorsey said such a deal is certainly possible.
He said against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and the threat of escalating sanctions against Russia, the latter has far less need to be concerned about a U.S. response.
Dorsey added that such a deal will not affect the nuclear deal, but much depends on the substance and terms of the deal.
He also said Iran's relations with Russia are independent of the Ukraine crisis. "In fact, Russian relations with Iran played and continue to play a significant role in getting the talks started and advancing them," Dorsey noted.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scandal-ridden Asian football body stymies reform efforts

 Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa vs Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein

By James M. Dorsey

Efforts to reform Asian soccer governance have stalled more than a year after FIFA ousted disgraced former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam in the sport’s worst corruption scandal that tainted multiple members of the executive committees of both the world soccer and the Asian soccer body.

Bahrain Football Association president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, elected last May to complete Mr. Bin Hammam’s curtailed tenure has yet to act on his electoral promise of far-reaching structural reform. Sheikh Salman was at the same time elected a member of the FIFA executive committee.

Sheikh Salman’s promise included acting on a devastating internal audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC). The audit served to unseat Mr. Bin Hammam on charges of conflict of interest.

“The audit’s purpose was to deal with Bin Hammam. It served its purpose. It’s been buried,” said an AFC executive committee member, suggesting that establishing facts as the basis for reform had not been the group’s primary purpose in commissioning the audit.

In fact, reform has all but disappeared from the AFC’s agenda with the removal of Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national. Instead, with elections for the AFC presidency and FIFA’s Asian vice presidency scheduled for next year, attention is focused on efforts by soccer autocrats to rally the wagons in defence of their positions rather than democratize and make more transparent the group’s governance structures and efforts to further Asian soccer.

While candidates for the AFC presidency have yet to be announced, Sheikh Salman, supported by an alliance that includes North Korea and national associations with a past record of corruption and mismanagement like that of Indonesia, as well as strange bedfellows such as Qatar, is lobbying hard to circumvent the election for the FIFA seat by merging it with that of Asian presidency.

The seat is currently held by reformist Jordanian Prince and FIFA Vice President-Asia Ali Bin Al Hussein who was elected in early 2011. Japanese Football Association vice-president Kohzo Tashima said earlier this month that he too would run for the FIFA seat.

Sheikh Salman’s campaign to garner a majority at the AFC’s forthcoming congress during the World Cup in Brazil in favour of reversing its overwhelming rejection of a proposal to do away with elections for FIFA’s Asian vice presidency is staked on the Bahraini’s conviction that he will be re-elected as Asia’s soccer czar.

The fact that the campaign is gaining steam puts a minority of reformers within the AFC and FIFA, including Prince Ali and the national associations of Singapore, Japan, Australia and Guam on the defensive.
The battle in many ways highlights a situation in which soccer autocrats despite the sports’ recent history pockmarked by corruption and match-fixing scandals are under little if any pressure from the public, including fans and the media, to embark on long overdue reform.

Few international organizations would have gotten away with burying an independent audit that not only concluded that its chairman had used a sundry account as his personal account but also warned that there may have been cases of money laundering, tax invasion, bribery and busting of US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

Similarly, few international organizations would have elected as president the representative of a country in which national team players were publicly denounced, detained and tortured for their participation in mass anti-government protests and where two soccer teams remain incarcerated in prison. Particularly not against the backdrop of an increased focus on human rights in the wake of harsh criticism of labour conditions in Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, and mass protests in Brazil against demands put by FIFA on host nations.

Mounting frustration among reformers in Asian soccer exploded publicly this week with Prince Ali’s publication of an open letter to the Asian football community. Denouncing the efforts to merge the positions of AFC president and FIFA Asian vice president, Prince Ali asserted that “I stand firm by my conviction that all sport, including our sport; football, should be free from politics and completely devoid of politicos and self-interest individuals and groups that exploit the sport and all its stakeholders for their own personal gains.”

Charging that Sheikh Salman and “other AFC officials” were “driven purely by politics,” Prince Ali said it was “unfortunate” that the AFC was not focusing its “energies and valuable time to improving the game in Asia and addressing the myriad challenges that AFC faces in marketing, grassroots football, women’s football, transparency and accountability.”

The prince published his at times emotional appeal after an AFC executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur that was dominated by Shaikh Salman’s campaign to solidify his position in advance of the grouping’s forthcoming congress.

In going public, Prince Ali effectively put his finger on the key obstacle blocking reform of world soccer: the self-serving maintenance of the fiction that sports and politics are separate. Reality is that the two are inextricably intertwined at the hip. The sooner world soccer acknowledges reality, the sooner it becomes possible to introduce some form of governance of the relationship of sports and politics. Soccer, one the world’s most prevalent expressions of popular expressions, would be the first to benefit.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

EURO 2020 set to polish Turkey’s tarnished image

By James M. Dorsey

Turkey, eager to polish its image tarnished by a politicized match-fixing scandal, a massive corruption scandal, hard-handed police tactics against anti-government demonstrators and a bruising domestic power struggle, has emerged as a favourite to host  the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final.

"We think we will be awarded the two semi-finals and finals and we deserve it after bidding for the last three tournaments. It's high time we were successful and UEFA president Michel Platini has given that hint to us," Turkish Football Federation (TFF) vice-president Servet Yardimci told Inside World Football.

Brutal police tactics last June against anti-government demonstrators on Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square protesting against plans to replace the square’s historic Gezi Park with a shopping mall cost Turkey the hosting of the 2020 Olympic Games that were awarded to Tokyo instead. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the protests, the largest in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s more than a decade in power.

Turkey’s soccer image had already been tarnished by the time the protests erupted by a massive match-fixing scandal that escalated into a struggle between Mr. Erdogan and Fethullalh Gulen, a self-exiled 73-year old imam, for the favour of fans in a soccer-crazy country and control of Istanbul’s Fenerbahce SK, the crown jewel in Turkish soccer with the country’s largest fan base.

Turkey’s image was further sullied by a massive corruption scandal in December to which Mr. Erdogan responded by moving thousands of suspected followers of Mr. Gulen in the police and the judiciary to other jobs in a bid to control the graft enquiry. Mr. Erdogan’s further moves to control the Internet where leaks of potentially damaging evidence of corruption appeared regularly and make the judiciary subservient to the government have partially been reversed by the courts.

To top it all off, an article by investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh in the London Review of Books earlier this month asserted that last August’s chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus that brought the United States within inches of military intervention in Syria was the work of Syrian rebels aided by Turkey in a bid to force the US to take military action.

Long a proponent of US military action, Turkey had hoped that US intervention would salvage its failed Syria policy that together with the toppling of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has cost it loss of influence and prestige across the Middle East and North Africa. Mr. Hersh argued that Turkish–US relations have been strained as a result of the last minute US doubts about Syrian government responsibility, reinforced by Syria’s agreement to surrender its chemical weapons.

Winning the hosting of the EURO 2020 semi-finals and finals would project Turkey in a very different light and distract from the widely criticised authoritarian turn Mr. Erdogan has taken in recent years. It would also reinforce a resounding victory for Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in last month’s municipal elections that has left his opponents licking their wounds.

The hosting would further boost Turkey in its unspoken rivalry with Qatar for regional influence. Both nations employ sports alongside a global airline and the arts as tools of their projection in a friendly competition in which Turkey unlike Qatar brings to bear a sizeable country with one of the world’s 20 largest economies, a history of empire and historic ties to the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.

While the electoral victory likely strengthens Turkey’s hand against its competitors for the EURO 2020, soccer fans who regularly stage protests in stadia and denounce Mr. Erdogan as a thief because of his alleged involvement in the corruption scandal could cast a shadow over the Turkish bid. So could the fact that last year’s Under-20 FIFA World Cup attracted disappointing spectator numbers.

Similarly, Mr. Erdogan’s retaliation against legendary former soccer player Hakan Sukur, a supporter of Mr. Gulen, is unlikely to help the Turkish bid. Municipal officials this month removed Mr. Sukur’s nameplate from Istanbul’s Sancaktepe Hakan Sukur Stadium and the prime minister demanded that he resign his seat as a member of parliament.

Mr. Sukur was recruited by Mr. Erdogan and elected on the AKP ticket in 2011 but resigned in December from the party in protest against the prime minister’s efforts to close down prep schools operated by Mr. Gulen’s Hizmet movement. Mr. Sukur, viewed as the best soccer player of his generation if not in Turkish football history, remains an independent member of parliament.

Similarly, alleged political interference in soccer could damage the Turkish bid. Critics of Mr. Erdogan charge that the AKP last September engineered the storming of the pitch by rival fans during a derby between Istanbul rivals Besiktas and Galatasary in an effort to further curtail Carsi, the militant and widely popular Besiktas support group that played a key role in last year’s anti-government protests. They point to the fact security was lax at the match and that a youth leader of the AKP boasted on Facebook how he had obtained a free ticket to the derby and was one of the first to invade the pitch.

Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu moreover documented links between the AKP and 1453 Kartallari (1453 Eagles), a rival conservative Besiktas support group named in commemoration of the year that Ottoman Sultan Fatih the Conqueror drove the Byzantines out of Constantinople,. 1453 members reportedly shouted ‘God is Great’ and attacked Carsi supporters during the pitch invasion.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Erdogan chooses soccer for first-post election strike against Islamist opponents

Hakan Sukur Stadium no more

By James M. Dorsey

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, fresh from a resounding victory in municipal elections has chosen the soccer pitch to make good on his promise to “enter the lair” of his Islamist rival, self-exiled preacher Fethullalh Gulen, and ensure that what he calls an “alliance of evil” is brought to account for alleged treason and creating a state within a state.

In a symbolic gesture, Mr. Erdogan called on Turkish soccer legend Hakan Sukur to resign from parliament after his nameplate was removed from an Istanbul’s Sancaktepe Hakan Sukur Stadium. Mr. Sukur represented Istanbul on behalf of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) until he resigned in protest again the government’s handling of a major corruption scandal.

Back in 2011, Mr. Erdogan, a former soccer player, recruited Mr. Sukur to boost his election campaign to become prime minister for a third term. The former player had support the prime minister’s effort a year earlier to change Turkey’s constitution that had been drafted in the 1980s during a period of military rule. 
“Turkey has experienced a tremendous development and I wanted to be a part of this progress and transformation, too. I love my country and I am part of a party that has gained large support,” Mr. Sukur said at the time.

Three years later, responding to the renaming of the stadium, Mr. Sukur quipped on Twitter: “"It is better to have your name in people's heart than having a picture on a wall.”

AKP won last month’s municipal elections despite a massive corruption scandal that was sparked in December when prosecutors believed to be close to Mr. Gulen launched an investigation into alleged graft by ministers and prominent businessmen. Police at the time detained sons of three ministers and the head of a state-owned bank.

Mr. Erdogan has accused Mr. Gulen, who heads one of the world’s largest Islamist movements, of leaking a string of audio tapes allegedly implicating senior government officials, including Mr Erdogan, in the scandal as well as of a high level security meeting on Syria. The prime minister charged that the graft inquiry was part of a parallel state seeking to topple the government. Mr. Gulen is believed to have had a strong following in the judiciary and the police force

In response to the leaking of the tapes, Mr. Erdogan sought to block Twitter and You Tube but was rebuffed by the courts who lifted the ban on Twitter unconditionally and ordered You Tube to be unblocked once it deleted the Syria-related video because it damaged national security.

The move against Mr. Sukur, viewed as the best soccer player of his generation if not in Turkish football history, seemed petty against the prime minister’s earlier moves again Mr. Gulen, which included shifting scores of judicial personnel and thousands of police officers into new jobs in a bid to control the corruption investigation.

In addition to the renaming of the stadium, police in the south-eastern city of Adana arrested eight police officers believed to be close to Mr. Gulen’s Hizmet or Service movement on charges of illegal wiretapping.

Mr. Gulen heads a global education, banking and media empire that allied itself with Mr. Erdogan’s AKP in a successful bid to submit Turkey’s powerful military to civilian control. The mounting power struggle first became apparent in 2011 in a political and legal battle between Messrs Erdogan and Gulen over how to handle the eruption of the worst match fixing scandal in Turkish history. The match fixing inquiry was initiated by the same prosecutor who launched the graft investigation.

Messrs Erdogan and Gulen fought a proxy battle over legal penalties for match fixing when the soccer scandal erupted. Mr. Erdogan won that battle by pushing through parliament a bill that significantly reduced the penalties and arm twisting the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to get Fenerbahce SK, the political crown jewel in Turkish soccer, off the hook and prevent clubs guilty of match fixing from being relegated. At stake in the battle over Fenerbahce was control of the club with its millions of supporters.

The battle as well as the escalation of the power struggle culminating in the graft investigation has raised doubts about whether Mr. Gulen, a frail, ailing 73-year old, who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania, is in full control of his movement.

Those doubts have risen given that Mr. Gulen’s movement turned the power struggle into open warfare with the graft investigation without an apparent clear endgame. The movement appeared unprepared for whatever the outcome would be, a fall of the Erdogan government, which it has not prompted, or government retaliation that would seek to seriously weaken it.

Mr. Gulen appeared to implicitly acknowledge that he may not be in control in two phone calls to Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim in 2011 prior to soccer boss’s conviction on match fixing charges. People familiar with the phone calls quote Mr. Gulen as telling Mr. Yildirim: “There is nothing bad in my heart against you. I am not involved in this. There might be people who did wrong against you but I am not aware of this if it was my people.”

In an inscription in a book Mr. Gulen sent to Mr. Yildirim in between the two phone calls, the preacher wrote: “To Aziz Bey whom I never had a chance to meet but admire for his activism, righteousness and perseverance. My prayers are with you that your difficult days may pass.”

The renaming of the Istanbul stadium to punish Mr. Sukur is likely to be but a mild first push in Mr. Erdogan’s retaliation. So are allegations by Gulen-owned Turkish media such as Cihan news agency and Zaman newspaper - both affiliated to Gulen that they suffered cyber-attacks during last month’s elections.
Fenerbahce is certain to figure in Mr. Erdogan’s campaign. The club emerged in the run-up to the municipal elections as a bastion of opposition against Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The club appeared to highlight its position in a tweet that said that Mr. Yildirim had written in his personal notebook an oath of allegiance to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire: "I promise you, Fenerbahce will be the last light on earth fighting against the darkest powers that want us to forget your revolution".

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.