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Monday, June 6, 2011

Soccer could cost Turkish Prime Minister votes in Trabzon


In much of Turkey the question is not whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) will win June 12 elections but by what margin. The Black Sea town of Trabzon may be the exception after the city’s Trabzonspor soccer club lost its bid for the Turkish Spor Toto Super League title to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce.

Trabzonspor fans vented their anger in the front yard of an AKP office in Istanbul because Mr. Erdogan, a former soccer player, is known to be an ardent Fenerbahce fan who met with club officials before the match. He is said to have counseled Fenerbahce on how to win the championship. On Facebook, Trabzonspor fans warned that they would respond at the ballot box.

Mr. Erdogan was quick to try to repair the damage. Donning a shirt and tie in Trabzon’s blue and maroon colors, Mr. Erdogan said “it is wrong to turn this into a political campaign. Because as a prime minister, the importance I give to Trabzon's love for sports is evident. Wrong acts may have been committed, but it would be wrong to put the prime minister on the target. With my personality and character I cannot be associated with such a thing. It is merciless.”

Turkish columnist Cemal Ersen takes the fans’ threat serious because opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Volkan Canalioğlu won the last election in Trabzon because of his support for Trabzonspor.

Trabzon is known for its legendary soccer club, its fanatical football fans and hot-tempered, explosive inhabitants who are quicker with a knife than with their wits.

Not everyone agrees with Mr. Ersen. Sports sociologist Ahmet Talimciler believes 
Trabzonspor’s loss on the pitch will be forgotten by the time the elections take place. “It will only matter for a short time. Those who vote for the AK Party will do so again. I don't think the AK Party votes will be affected. If it had happened one or two days before the elections, it might have been something, but 20-25 days will have passed and things will cool down before then,” Mr. Talimciler told Turkish daily Zaman.

Mr. Talimceler argues that Mr. Erdogan benefits from his knowledge and support for the beautiful game. “A politician who comes from a football tradition is positive in the eyes of the public,” he said.

The Trabzonspor-Fenerbahce incident is not the first time Mr. Erdogan got into hot water because of his actions regarding or comments on soccer. 

In January, the prime minister encountered angry fans wnhen he attended the opening of Istanbul club Galatasray’s new Ali Sami Yen Sports Complex Turk Telekom Arena. Mr. Erdogan reacted by saying that Galatasary had not spent a cent on the new stadium, overlooking the fact that the fact that the club had given land to the government in exchange for its support.

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