At a crucial point in the Super League title race, Galatasaray downed leader Başakşehirspor to reclaim the top spot this weekend. The game had nothing special in itself but was crucial given that only five games are left this season and it could prove to be the potential title decider. But, it suddenly became the talk of the town after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Başakşehir fans to fill the stadium. It was obvious, however, that the statement had nothing to do with Başakşehir’s alleged political connections since the game was not in its home stadium. Still, the President’s casual calls towards football fans caused a Twitter storm, which I think was far from justified.
First of all, Başakşehir started off as Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor (Istanbul Municipality Sports Club, IBBSK) before it changed hands. The municipality was a public organization and there were allegations of the club’s political involvement. Interestingly, however, IBBSK’s performance was nowhere near a club that was backed by governmental structures. And like an ordinary Turkish League side, it was eventually relegated to the second division in 2013.
Now, it is worth asking that if the government had any plans of backing Başakşehir or IBBSK more than any other club in Turkey, would not this have a clear effect on the club after it started competing for the top in the Super League? But as we can see, the club has gone through a lot of ups and downs in its history, unlike the Istanbul giants who somehow manage to cling to the top tier despite records of horrible financial management and chaotic administrative processes.
Secondly, government funding for the Istanbul giants is no different than it is for Başakşehir. Since Turkish clubs do not hold stadiums, it was up to the government to build stadiums and hand them over to the giants. In addition, these clubs were not managed decently and had many financial problems, forcing the government to offer tax cuts and restructure debts countless times in order to save them from going under.
Başakşehirspor, in comparison, has managed to continue its journey to the top of the Turkish League debt free, even making around 50 to 60 million euros in profit annually. Unlike the traditional giants and the poorly managed Anatolian clubs, Başakşehir players and staff had no problems regarding contracts and payments. It is obvious the Istanbul minnow has managed to produce one of the cleanest financial performances in Turkish football history.
Then why are there so many conspiracy theories and so much hatred towards Başakşehirspor, a club that has achieved so much with half the budget of its crosstown rivals? The club was bought justly, it is being run justly, and it has achieved financial and sporting success, which should, in fact, inspire others. Thus, it seems clear that the answer to this question is not entirely related to football, rather it is certainly about politics and I do not intend to dive into that abyss. One thing is clear though, Başakşehirspor’s success and its reliance on long-term projects must be appreciated while unfounded allegations of its political involvement must be denounced, for the game’s sake.