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Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the Turkish Republic and Sports

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

It is the 100th year of the great Turkish Republic that transformed Turks from a subject to a nation. First and foremost, I extend my heartfelt salute to our valiant officers, the pioneers of the Turkish parliament, our resilient people who ardently fought for our independence amidst adversity, and to the indomitable Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of the Turks, whose unwavering determination led to the establishment of our beloved Republic.

Although the war of national liberation had been triumphantly concluded, it was clear to Mustafa Kemal that ascending Türkiye to the level of contemporary civilizations would necessitate comprehensive reforms, including the modernization of sports. During the formative years of the new Republic, many official institutions dedicated to the advancement of sports were established. Here is a brief list examining the organizations, magazines and memorable tournaments in the early Republican era.

Türk İdman Cemiyetleri İttifakı (TİCİ)/ Turkish Training Associations Alliance, May 22, 1922:

The most foundational and maybe the most important development was the establishment of TİCİ. Taking a look at the objectives stated in the formation script of the alliance helps to understand the role of sports in the modernization plans: “Providing young people with activities to keep them away from alcohol and gambling, getting individuals involved in organizational activities from a young age, raising strong and skilled generations, promoting marksmanship, horsemanship, and seamanship to facilitate military organization tasks [and] arousing national sentiments through international competitions.” The organization managed to be a part of the 1924 Paris Olympics.


  • 1924/28: The 7-month-old Türkiye managed to be a part of the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics with 41 male athletes and an investment around 28.000TL which is a considerable amount of money considering the financial difficulties at the time. This clearly shows the enthusiasm Türkiye has to show itself in the international sports arena.

  • 1936: The Turks witnessed a couple of firsts in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. Türkiye won its first two medals in the Olympics in wrestling with Ahmet Kireççi (bronze) and Yaşar Erkan (gold). Yaşar headlined in the newspapers at the time with his statement after winning the gold: “After the honor of raising my [country’s] flag on the Olympic pole for the first time, I can die with no regrets.” It was also the first time women athletes had the chance to represent Türkiye in the Olympics. Halet Çambel and Suat Fetgeri Aşeni competed in fencing and proudly represented their country in the international arena, paving the way for the future women athletes in Türkiye. Perhaps the importance of playing a part in the Olympics for these notable athletes can be understood by Aşeni’s words: “It was a great privilege and a source of pride for me to be one of the two female athletes who experienced the great joy of the Olympic games. […] Representing my country in such an organization and winning two matches made me very happy and proud.”

Transformation to Turkish Sports Association (Türk Spor Kurumu) and General Directorate of Physical Education (Beden Terbiyesi Genel Müdürlüğü):

On February 18, 1936 TİCİ was replaced with the CHP-affiliated Turkish Sports Association (CHP: the ruling party at the time/ Republican People’s Party) with the help of Dr. Carl Diem, the famous German sports administrator who also helped forming the sports plans of the NSRL (National Socialist League of the Reich for Physical Exercise/ german: Nationalsozialistischer Reichsbund für Leibesübungen). Dr. Carl Diem “aimed for physical education to be provided in schools, youth associations and sports clubs starting from pre-school. In his report, Diem envisioned that the state should manage all sports areas through the Sports Directorate, headed by a ministerial-level Head of Sports” (Erol Akcan 2). Various plans were discussed but one of the notable plans named “Gazi Gençlik Derneği” (Gazi Youth Guild) resembles the programs for the “Hitler-Jugend” (Hitler Youth) with its pre-military training for young generations. Many others like Kazım Özalp came with alternatives stating that “the organization for a youth of one nation cannot be determined by the professors and doctors of another nation, reminding the failure of German Generals sent to reform the Turkish army” (Erol Akcan 2d). Amidst all of this, on October 29, 1936 all athletes were made CHP members only made possible because of the CHP affiliation of the Turkish Sports Association. It did not escape Atatürk’s attention that the Turkish athletes wore the 6-arrow symbol of CHP alongside the Turkish moon and star. Displeased with the affiliation of sports with the party, Mustafa Kemal ordered a meeting to be held on June 29, 1938 in the TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey/ Parliament) to address this issue. It was unanimously agreed that “sports are the business of the state. Therefore, we [should entrust] this responsibility entirely to the state.” This consensus led to the enactment of Law No. 3530 on Physical Education, which transferred sports from the domain of political parties and placed their control in the state, under the name of “General Directorate of Physical Education”.

Sports Media of the Early Republic Period and “Maç” Gazette

In the first years of the Republic there weren’t many sports magazines and sports covered a small fraction in newspapers. “Maç” is a rare and good example to gain insight on sports and sports media at the time. Maç started getting published two and a half years after the declaration of the Republic. As in many other fields, sports media was also seeking to present the Republic’s reforms and educate people on the importance of sports. The first issue of Maç was concentrated on the purpose and publication policy of the magazine. These were stated in the article titled “Maksad” (meaning intent) as follows: “We, inspired by the fruitful spirit of the Republican Revolution, embarked on the publication of ‘Maç’ with the aspiration to become pioneers of that revolution. (…) It is with this unwavering belief that we find ourselves compelled to share our professional knowledge. Our newspaper belongs to all Turkish youth. We will take great pleasure and honor in serving the true sons and daughters of Anatolia.” The first issue also includes a photo of Mustafa Kemal in modern attire with a fedora hat and under it a small text: “The Cherished Guide and Patron of Turkish Youth, the Great Hero”. Maç also included Ismet Pasha explaining his contribution to sports. The Maç gazette tried to emphasize the scientific aspect of sports beyond sports news and tried to popularize underappreciated sports like athletics to help Atatürk and revolutionaries evolve Turkish sports.

There are hundreds of improvements the sports world witnessed with the Turkish Republic and in account of everything that has been stated in the list it is safe to say that the Republic managed to revolutionize sports in Türkiye among many other things despite the ups and downs. May our unwavering devotion to our land, our unity and our boundless pride in our heritage, guided by the vision and legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, continue to be a driving force behind countless generations.

"In comparison to the past, we will work even harder. In less time, we will achieve greater accomplishments. I have no doubt that we will succeed, because the Turkish nation is of high character. The Turkish nation is hardworking. The Turkish nation is intelligent. [We will succeed] because the Turkish nation knows how to overcome difficulties with national unity and solidarity. And because, in the path of progress and civilization that the Turkish nation is pursuing, the torch [we] hold in [our] hand and mind is positive science."

-Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, October 29, 1933

The celebration of the 12th year of the Republic spearheaded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Headline of the newspaper “Akşam” on October 29, 1935 celebrating the 12th anniversary of the Republic.

Written by: Yiğit Gülmez

Edited by: Yağmur Ece Nisanoğlu

Works cited:

  • Gürkan, Emrah Safa. Cumhuriyet’in 100 Günü: İnkılabın Ayak Sesleri. s.208. 1st ed., Can Sanat Yayınları A.Ş. 2023.

  • Akcan, Erol. İki Dünya Savaşı Arasında Türkiye’de “Gençlik Teşkilatı” Oluşturmaya Dönük Bazı Tasavvur ve Teşebbüsler. Belleten/ Türk Tarih Kurumu. 2017.

  • Yücel, Ömer Faruk and Arda Umut Saygın. Cumhuriyet Devri Beden Terbiyesi ve Spor Politikaları Çerçevesinde Maç Dergisi Üzerine Bir İnceleme. Gumushane University e-Journal of Faculty of Communication. 2023.

  • Kılıç, Behram. ‘Arşivimi bir meydanda yakacağım’. Aksiyon Haftalık Haber Dergisi Issue 506. 2004.

  • Berlin 1936 XI. Yaz Olimpiyat Oyunları.

  • Olimpiyatların Öncü Türk Kadınları: Halet Çambel ve Suat Fetgeri Aşeni. 2019.

  • admin. Beden Terbiyesi Genel Müdürlüğü. 2015.

  • Dünya Şampiyonu Olan Yaşarın beyanatı. Haber Gazetesi, Sene: 5 - Sayı: 1641. 1936.

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