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Opinion: The Real Soccer Scandal in Istanbul

Oliver Samson (ncy)November 17, 2005

The soccer world is in an uproar in the wake of the beating the Swiss national team took from their Turkish opponents. DW's Oliver Samson says the Turks' behavior shouldn't be tolerated.

The Swiss had to have police protectionImage: AP

European soccer has a new scandal: players beaten, trainers punched, journalists physically prevented from doing their work. It's only right that the soccer world of is outraged over the events en route to the locker rooms after Turkey ultimately failed to qualify for the World Cup in its game against Switzerland. But no one should be surprised -- or if so, only because it wasn't worse.

The kicks and punches, the harassment of the Swiss team at Istanbul airport, the eggs and stones the Turks threw at the Swiss team's bus -- they have a prehistory. And it is the real scandal.

It started the previous weekend in Basel. When the whistle was finally blown on the first leg a disappointed 0-2 loss for the Turks, a whole chorus of agitators decided to play with people's emotions. An unholy alliance of trainer Fatih Terim, officials and journalists developed conspiracy theories and whipped up alleged injuries to Turkish honor -- all with the aim of pumping a bit more passion into the team and the spectators for the second leg in Istanbul. And at the head of the provocateurs was the Turkish team's ultra-nationalistic manager, Davut Disli.

Welcome to Hell - Großbild
"Welcome to Hell" reads the Turkish fans' bannerImage: AP

Nothing could be more wrong than to dismiss it all as Turkish soccer folklore, thus playing it down. Starting a downright hate campaign against Switzerland ahead of this critical game is a sign of criminal irresponsibility. After all, in Istanbul in 2000 two English soccer fans were knifed. In Istanbul, after winning against the Turks to qualify for the 2003 European Championship, members of Germany's under-21 national team felt the brunt of Turkish disappointment and were beaten up on the way to the locker rooms. Even the game's referee was hurt and had to get stitches on his head.

Türkei nicht bei WM dabei
Bad loser: Turkish coach Fatih Terim gestures towards referee Frank De BleeckereImage: AP

Perhaps it's too much to expect fairness and respect for the opponent from the passionate Turkish fans. But you must be able to expect Turkish soccer team officials not to further incite the fans. Whether a draconic penalty from world soccer association FIFA -- such as excluding the Turks from the next World Cup -- would be conducive to positive developments in Turkish soccer is an open question. Germany won't get a chance to welcome the Turkish team to the 2006 World Cup as it is -- certainly the biggest surprise of the qualifiers in the first place. In terms of sport, it's a great loss -- after all, Turkey made headlines when it made it to third place in the last World Cup.

Turkey's route to the top of world soccer has been cut off for the time being. Perhaps it's an opportunity for Turkish soccer -- riddled by corruption as it is -- to consider a change of mentality. Otherwise, Turkish soccer will surely continue to garner bad news, such as this: In early November, the European soccer association UEFA at an early stage already rejected Turkey's application to host the 2012 European Championship.