CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WITHOUT A CHAMPION’S ATTITUDE: How was it handled and what does it mean politically
Football, commonly known as soccer in the west, is a polarizing sport. Sometimes, it makes people say that fanatic supporters are rioters, whilst other times, it shows us there is still hope in humanity through the means of friendship.
As polarising football can be, its power over fans is the opposite at most times, bringing them together no matter their background or visions of life. When it is the team they support, anyone from professors to chefs, pilots to stay-at-home dads come together to support the said team, and the unity feeling takes on. That is when and how logic is separated from football.
Over the years, the rising leagues of world football have been greatly cherished, including many respected organizations such as UEFA. The UEFA Champions League has been an elegant part of the world of football ever since 1955 and has become a source of many memorable moments. Examples include Liverpool’s comeback against Milan in the 2005 Cup in Istanbul and Messi’s solo goal in 2011 against Real Madrid. However, aside from these beautiful moments, there were also offending times such as the Putin chant being sung at the Fenerbahçe – Dynamo Kyiv match, displaying a darker side of football.
Let’s break it into pieces and elaborate. Like any story, there are two sides. From an objective perspective, Fenerbahçe fans got aggressive towards the end of the game and failed to control their temper after a Ukrainian player, Vitaliy Buyalskyi, scored a goal, which resulted in some fans chanting Vladimir Putin’s name. As known, Putin has an ongoing history of aggressive invasions of Ukraine, the most recent one relapsing this year in February, so it was not bewildering when this display of aggression through their support of him quickly caught the international media’s attention.
On Fenerbahçe’s side, fans view this as “a wrong yet momentary reaction to provocation coming from the Ukrainian footballer,” as they claim he showed a symbol in support of one of Fenerbahçe’s rivals, Beşiktaş. Fenerbahçe released official statements from their main social media accounts regarding this matter, denouncing the chants as “disgraceful,” claiming they “do not support such ways of aggression”. Following the discourse, Fenerbahçe has been put in a tight spot, being investigated for disciplinary actions.
Most of the criticism was from the UK and US, two countries that have provided the most military aid to Ukraine. Aside from the backlash Fenerbahçe fans received online, the Ukrainian Ambassador in Ankara, Vasyl Bodnar, tweeted that he was saddened by the chants. He did not forget to thank those who stood against the "inappropriate actions" of the fans though. "Football is a fair game. Dynamo Kyiv was stronger yesterday," he said, to which Fenerbahçe’s current president Ali KOÇ responded: “At that time we were not aware the chant was for Putin. We find that the little group’s aggressive acts disgraceful yet Fenerbahçe as a whole can not be blamed for this. That was an ugly behavior true Fenerbahçe fans would never do.”
Now that the matter has been broken down, two other aspects to this issue arise. Firstly, while Fenerbahçe fans’ actions are not justifiable, we should not turn a blind eye to the fact that the majority talks but do not act with regards to making up for their previous words. The UEFA is investigating Fenerbahçe fans and, though everybody is roused by this disgrace, when it comes to aiding Ukraine, we observe that it comes largely from USA, UK, and Canada, relying on the fact that they provide 52 percent of the aid.
During war times with a clearly innocent party, when attacks become brutally wide-ranged that even civilians are purposefully hurt, a greater amount of support should be given. UN and the EU are two of the most influential unions with this capability, yet their actions and effectiveness are up for debate. The EU's options are also somewhat constrained because it depends on Russia for around 40% of its gas needs as well as for copper, nickel, and other metals used in aviation. Russia leads the world in both oil production and gas reserves, so "teaching them a lesson" will require considerably more effort than merely imposing sanctions.
The previous political positions of nations are also playing a large role in scandals like these. Considering Türkiye’s role as a country trying to play it safe with both countries for diplomatic reasons, a choice later criticized, it ended up being the mediator party and became the key country that helped solve the wheat crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Through the control headquarter in Istanbul, a crisis with the potential to have far worse and widespread consequences was eased at a critical stage.
Moving on to the second aspect, let’s examine Türkiye’s and Fenerbahçe’s perspectives on this war. Keeping its interlocutor, Türkiye has supported Ukraine in humanitarian means, evacuating 16.000 civilians from combat zones and taking in more than 60.000 Ukrainian refugees. It has sold Turkish-built armed, aerial drones that Ukraine has deployed against Russian ground offensives. Civilians of Türkiye have raised their voices against Putin, setting up different platforms and helping organizations for Ukraine, showing interest in aiding. Fenerbahçe hosted Shaktar Donetsk, yet another Ukrainian football team, in Ülker stadium back on the 19th of April. The aforementioned match was a charity game where all proceeds, including ticket sales and advertising for the Shaktar Global Tour for Peace Matches, were to be donated to Ukrainian people, doctors, and volunteer organizations.
Despite all these pure-hearted acts showing how unity can do good, those 20 seconds in the match also showed what unity in anger brings. Though it is not right to interpret, there is a considerable chance that, when individually observed, some fans detest Putin and his aggressive war declaration and ongoing invasion. However, when there was a motive that was prioritized at the time, such as supporting a favorite team, that anger made them unite in a disgraceful way.
Noting these actions meant to support Ukraine, pinning the behavior of a few fans on an entire football team, even more, an entire country would be rather extreme. We can conclude that, as opposed to how optics are trying to display Fenerbahçe, on a larger scale, it is far from being a disrespectful or hostile club, in general.
This is not to undermine how disgraceful and unacceptable the Putin chant was, in every aspect.
To conclude, Türkiye has built credibility by developing a specific amplitude for mediation and by showing itself to Russia and Ukraine as an independent actor that, despite being a NATO member, is not unjustly influenced by the US or Europe. Taking both the football and political aspects into consideration, though Türkiye might be criticized for “playing both sides,” the country also needs to seek what will inevitably result in its good, especially when the economic situation is unreliable and under threat.
Any country would do its best to protect its interests, as can also be observed through the EU’s attitude towards the Middle Eastern refugee.
If matters of hypocrisy and political double standards are being questioned, Türkiye should not be the only country under fire in this discussion.