Football industry in Turkey has been heavily benefitted by government for distribution of resources in favor of its cronies and also government keeps football under control via these cronies.
In Turkey football (soccer), like most of the other sectors, has been severely politicized since ruling party’s authoritarian turn in the beginning of 2010s. We have frequently witnessed politics in the realm of football as it was in the match-fixing case of one of the biggest clubs in Turkey or when football clubs were stuck with huge amounts of debts that they could not able to pay themselves. Furthermore, while executives of clubs do not hesitate to visit President Erdogan in certain occasions, the President also has become a member of council board of one famous football club. This essay is beyond these relations between clubs and government and also has nothing about football pitch but about how AKP government takes advantage of football industry in distribution of economic resources benefitting its supporters and how it controls football federation through its newly enriched elites.
I will first examine how shares of this profitable industry have been distributed to members of incumbent government’s loyal business class with two cases. In 2013 instead of printed tickets Turkish Football Federation (TFF) passed to a new ticket system which is based on having an electronic card (Passolig) that has e-ticket service and credit card function. Its main purpose was to deal with security problems occuring in tribunes and to take under control the fan groups. The problem here was who will be issuing these cards which would most likely bring considerable amount of profits. Calık Holding, which has been to be known as one of the cronies of government, was the company that took right of issuing these cards as the result of a tender. It is important to note that at the time Erdogan’s son in law was the CEO of the company. Surprisingly, last year a pro-government newspaper, Yeni Şafak, claimed that Aktif Bank, which is the banking branch of Calık Holding, makes huge profits from these cards with low costs and high prices. It even claimed that nearly half of the profit that Bank makes in total comes from these Passolig cards.
Other company that gets a slice from the football industry is Demiroren Holding which is another pro-government business and known to be the new owner of some newspapers and TV channels that were used to be mainstream media organs of Turkey. With their new owners, these media organs are also transformed into partisan media by firing tens of journalists. Son of this holdings’ owner had also been the President of TFF between 2012 and 2019. This relation has even become more complex when the same holding joined tender for official betting games. In 2019 Spor Toto Organization made a tender to give the rights for arranging betting games across the country. Although at first another company won the tender and Demiroren even did not participate it, this tender was cancelled. The second tender was held with four companies including Demiroren and that time the winner was Demiroren. The company that won the tender at first raised its objections that the offer which was made by Demiroren was not in line with tender contract and also its partner firm was not met the criteria demanded by the organization itself. However, at the end the result did not change and Demiroren got into this highly profitable industry. With this action, football industry’s two of the most profitable slices as ticket sale and betting has been taken by pro-government businesses. As both examples clearly show, government is making use of public procurement in football industry to nourish its loyal business class. Obviously this is not limited to football and as Esen and Gumuscu (2018) argue directing capital to pro-government businesses has become a practice for AKP government since its rise to power. That is why it is not surprising to see that football industry has been distributed to their cronies.
My second argument is about how AKP controls TFF via its presidents. I will examine last two of these presidents who are also Chairmans of Executive Boards of their companies. Both companies have reputation of being cronies of government. First is abovementioned son of Demiroren Holding owner, Yıldırım Demiroren. He had been President of TFF since 2012 until his company began to run betting games. As we clearly observe, he was in the center of a very complex webs of relations from business to politics and from media to football. Furthermore, under his mandate, TFF made some controversial decisions as in the case of match-fixing case in 2012. Second president is Nihat Ozdemir who has been elected recently after Demiroren left presidency. He is the head of Limak Holding which has increased it capital enormously in recent years. According to a World Bank Report, his company is among the ten companies throughout the world which won most infrastructure tenders from states.
Actually, businessmen’s involvement to football is not novel in Turkey and in the world as well. Whereas for some it has been a kind of a hobby, others have used it to gain popularity among public. Therefore, seeing them as presidents of clubs or federation cannot be interpreted directly as involvement of politics into this sport. I argue that what makes their presidencies unique among others is their strong connections with the incumbent government. They are able to take credits from state-owned banks with low interest rates to finance their investments while others cannot and are top companies that win state tenders. Here, there can be two explanations of why they filled the chair of TFF presidency. The Presidency is either a reward or an assignment to control the Turkish football industry. Latter one seems more convincing to me when their ongoing relations with government are considered. That is why I think they are responsible for keeping Turkish football under control and ruling it in line with government’s policies.
Consequently, it is seen that Turkish football is highly politicized with both its economy and administration. Considering clubs’ huge debts and their need to government to pay them, it is not difficult to predict that we will witness more of this political involvement into this exciting sport.
Berk Esen & Sebnem Gumuscu (2018) Building a Competitive Authoritarian Regime: State–Business Relations in the AKP’s Turkey, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 20:4, 349-372, DOI: 10.1080/19448953.2018.1385924