Turkish soccer fans are taking the lead in İstanbul’s anti-government protests, effectively turning the country’s most popular sport into a potential political battleground.
The politicization of soccer fans poses a quandary for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A former semi-professional soccer player himself, who is known to don the scarf of a local club when addressing public rallies across the country, Erdoğan long considered soccer to be his own political domain. But no longer.
The sight of soccer fans standing on barricades, taunting police, has shattered that image. For many Turks, soccer is now associated with political protest.
Soccer fans notably took on a leading role in İstanbul demonstrations last week over claims that a police tear-gas canister had killed 22-year-old Ahmet Atakan during September 9 rallies in the southeastern city of Hatay. The demonstrations were centered in the city’s Kadıköy district, home to the 106-year-old Fenerbahçe soccer club, a national icon.
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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.