Süper Lig: Brawls, corruption, attacks: Turkish football is sinking into violence

There were scenes that were reminiscent of the saddest times of the English hooligan scene: At the weekend, the players from Fenerbahce Istanbul celebrated their late 3-2 away win at Trabzonspor on the pitch.

Süper Lig: Brawls, corruption, attacks: Turkish football is sinking into violence

There were scenes that were reminiscent of the saddest times of the English hooligan scene: At the weekend, the players from Fenerbahce Istanbul celebrated their late 3-2 away win at Trabzonspor on the pitch. Dozens of opposing fans stormed the field and violent brawls broke out.

Former BVB player Michy Batshuayi hit a fan who was running towards him with a chest-high kick, right-back Bright Osayi-Samuel had to be dragged away by his teammates as he punched two fans who were lying on the ground. A Fenerbahce fan armed himself with one of the corner flags when storming the pitch and had to be stopped by security forces. Videos on social networks show the chaos that followed.

The incident on Sunday evening once again highlighted what has been normal in the Turkish Süper Lig for years: sheer violence - by and against those in charge, players, coaches and referees. Eight years before the European Championship in Turkey, the authorities and the national football association TFF appear helpless.

The atmosphere in Turkish stadiums is as famous as it is infamous. In international games, foreign teams also get to experience what it means to play for Galatasaray or Besiktas Istanbul, for example. “Cauldron” is usually the description of choice. A large part of Turkish fans is what the word "fanatical" was invented for. The atmosphere in the stadiums is often heated or hostile. The rivalries in the league - and there are a few - are a mix of sporting competition and outright hatred.

And this hatred is increasingly leading to physical violence - and not just among fans. In December there was a scandal when the then president of the Ankaragücü club, Faruk Koca, hit referee Halil Umut Meler in the face after the game against Rizespor, breaking his cheekbone. The referee staggered to the ground while several people continued to kick him. The suspected reason for the attack was Rizespor's 1-1 equalizer in the seventh minute of injury time.

After the attack, the association temporarily stopped playing and an arrest warrant was issued against Koca and two other people. He resigned as president shortly afterwards and was banned from the TFF for life. The attack shocked the international football world and yet it was just another highlight in a series of riots in Turkish football.

At the end of November 2022, the second division city derby Göztepe against Altay Izmir took place during the World Cup in Qatar. Before and during the game there were bloody riots by supporters in the stands. Visiting fans shot pyrotechnics into adjacent blocks - the game had to be stopped so that injured people could be treated. Meanwhile, a home fan stormed onto the pitch, ripped a corner flag from its anchorage and hit the away team's goalkeeper with it on the back. The game was canceled and several ambulances were on the field to treat injured fans.

The worst incident to date occurred in April 2015: After Fenerbahce's clear 5-1 away win at Rizespor, the visiting team's bus was allegedly attacked by Rizespor fans on the way to the airport. Unknown perpetrators shot at the vehicle with a shotgun. The driver was hit and required surgery. Officials later found a hunting rifle in the ditch, which was probably the murder weapon.

In addition to the escalating violence, the issue of corruption is also a recurring topic in Turkish professional football. In July 2011, several high-ranking Fenerbahce officials were arrested for allegedly postponing the season finale in order to secure their club's championship title. A few weeks later, fans of the club attacked the press box with glasses, coins and other objects during a friendly against Shakhtar Donetsk. The media representatives had to seek safety in the catacombs. The rioters then stormed the field and forced the game to be abandoned.

Fan violence has been simmering in Turkish football for ages and there have been hardly any attempts to counteract this violence. "Why are there no fan projects in Turkey? None of the football experts can answer this question," said Karin Senz, Turkey correspondent for ARD, to the Swiss television station SRF.

The only project worth mentioning was a fan alliance between the capital city clubs Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, with which the actually rival clubs wanted to set an example against police violence and at least found a common denominator in this. But the merger has now been watered down, says Senz. Otherwise there would be no ambition on the part of the clubs to influence their own fan groups and prevent possible violence.

In addition, football in Turkey also has a political component, said Senz. "There is a justice problem in Turkey. And - according to the experts - this also extends into football." In view of the current case at the weekend, the local elections at the end of this month also have to be taken into account. Trabzonspor, for example, is an absolute AKP area. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's party probably doesn't want to mess with the fans, explains Senz, citing experts.

Nevertheless, the pressure from the Interior Ministry on the Turkish association will grow. The European Championships are scheduled to take place in Italy and Turkey in 2032. In recent years, foreign hooligans have caused devastation in city centers and dozens of injuries in brawls at tournaments. The Turkish state will probably be interested in ensuring that things remain peaceful, at least within the stadiums. However, there are obviously no concepts for this yet, as past cases show.

Sources: SRF.ch, ZDF.de, Bild.de, Express.de, Spiegel.de, kicker.de