The timing of Euro 2020 could hardly be better for the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In order to divert attention from serious economic and political problems in one’s own country, a new focus is urgently needed. The delayed football tournament that began with Turkey’s 3-0 defeat by Italy in Rome on June 11 could be just the ticket.
Most recently, the Erdogan government was hit hard by the sensational allegations of a volatile mafia boss. Sedat Peker’s weekly Tell-All monologues, a viral series of YouTube videos that have been viewed more than 100 million times since the beginning of May, have rocked Erdogan’s regime and brought the notorious “deep state” of Turkey back into the spotlight.
Peker, who once openly supported Erdogan’s ruling party and allegedly fled Turkey last year to avoid prosecution, says he is now in Dubai. His allegations against current and former government officials range from corruption, undercover arms deliveries and drug smuggling to rape and unsolved murders.
Erdogan and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, the main target group of Peker’s monologues, have rejected the allegations. Erdogan has accused his opposition of relying on “defamation” from criminal groups. Soylu, whose resignation was requested by the opposition, said the allegations were a conspiracy against Turkey.
Sedat Peker’s YouTube series has caused quite a stir in Turkey
With Beijing’s claims putting officials on the defensive, anticipation came to an exciting Turkish team preparing for Euro 2020 to rescue the government by largely captivating the Turkish public.
But the effect of football as the “opium of the people” will not last long this time, in the opinion of government opponents in the football-mad country.
Association is not big enough
Erdogan Toprak, MP for the largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and chief adviser to the party leader, told DW that Turkey’s European Championship games in the country could only really be on the agenda for a few days, because it is great that they are not covered by a football match can be. “
“This association will not cover the wound,” added the former deputy CHP chief, referring to the high unemployment rate, the high cost of living, the loss of tourism income due to the government mismanagement of the pandemic and the alleged collaboration between Mafia boss Peker and Erdogans Political party.
“Nobody can hide behind the Turkish national team”
Arif Kizilyalin, sports columnist for the Turkish opposition newspaper CumhuriyetToprak agrees. “The problems in Turkey have got beyond the point where football makes them forget. There was a saying in Latin America and Spain that football is the opium of the people.” But there is no pain reliever or drug that can alleviate the problems like in Turkey, “Kizilyalin told DW.
“I hope that Turkey is enthusiastic and unites behind the national team, but on the other hand, the economic crisis with the Turkish lira at all-time low and the claims of Sedat Peker will not be forgotten either. Nobody can hide behind the Turkish international.” Team and try to make people forget these things this time. “
Turkish football has long been intertwined with politics. In 2020, the upstart Istanbul Basaksehir won the Süper Lig in the first division with the considerable support and patronage of Erdogan and his allies. Nihat Özdemir, the head of the Turkish Football Association, is one of a handful of contractors allegedly favored by the government and has very close ties to Erdogan.
Erdogan is looking for an oasis
Toprak and Kizilyalin both suggest that the Turkish government will try to capitalize on every possible success story of the national team at Euro 2020.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes for a boost from the EM
“I want the Turkish national team to be successful with all my heart. We are always proud of such a success. But they will definitely propagate it,” said CHP MP Toprak. “Because there is no positive development in the country they rule. They want to benefit from the added value of others. But such a success would not be theirs. It would belong to the footballers on the pitch.”
Kizilyalin also says the government is doomed not to call a positive outcome its own success, despite controlling more than 90% of Turkey’s conventional media. “The Turkish national team is not President Erdogan’s team,” he added. “Success of the national team … would only belong to coach Senol Günes and his team.”
Another bad start
Günes wants to repeat the success of his 2002 World Cup season in which he led Turkey to third place. Turkey will also be inspired by their third place finish at Euro 2008, where the team was named “Comeback Kings”.
Turkey suffered a heavy defeat in the opening game against Italy
They have to live up to that reputation this year as well, having continued their record of losing all opening games in major tournaments with the deserved defeat against Italy.
Fortunately, Turkey’s next two games against Wales will take place on June 16, and Switzerland four days later in Baku, Azerbaijan, and are already known as “home games” due to the close ties between the two nations.
Over 20,000 Turkish fans are expected in the Azerbaijani capital, and the team can also count on the support of the locals, with whom they have close ethnic-Turkish ties.
In fact, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu and the head of the football association Özdemir underlined the motto of the neighboring countries “two states, one nation” after the friendly game between Turkey and Azerbaijan last month in the southern Turkish province of Antalya.
Cavusoglu praised the Turkish fans who also chanted for Azerbaijan during the game and showed everyone “who Karabakh belongs to”. Turkey provided Azerbaijan with military support in the war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh area.
Rovnag Abdullayev, the chairman of the Azerbaijani Football Association, told reporters that he hoped the Turkish national team would win their games in Baku with the help of Azerbaijani fans in the stands.
It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to develop Turkey from Group A and to distract from the dissatisfaction with Erdogan at home.