Clubs from the Süperlig with problems
DChristian Atsu’s last goal is captured on video: a free-kick that he twists into the left corner. Just hours before the devastating earthquake on February 6th in south-eastern Turkey, the professional soccer player gave the Superlig club Hatayspor a win over Kasimpasa.
“The whole city went crazy, everyone was so happy because this win strengthened our hopes of staying up in the league,” said deputy club chairman Aydin Toksöz, recalling the hours before the earthquake. Shortly thereafter, Atsu was buried under the rubble along with tens of thousands of other people. His death was confirmed on February 18 after almost two weeks of uncertainty. Hundreds of people bid farewell to Atsu in Ghana’s capital Accra on Friday.
Stadium as an emergency shelter for the homeless
The earthquake has incomprehensible suffering on the Turkey brought and also hit the sport deeply. Sports facilities were destroyed, athletes lost their lives. In the regions that were particularly hard hit, regular sports operations are out of the question. The fate of young volleyball professionals from Northern Cyprus, who had traveled with their school team for a tournament, is particularly tragic. The hotel in Adiyaman that housed the girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 14 collapsed. None of the 25 children could be saved.
In addition to Atsu, Hatayspor lost other team members: sports director Taner Savut and several junior players also died under the rubble, says Toksöz. The first division club bears its homeland in its name: Hatay – one of the provinces most severely affected by the earthquake. The stadium where Atsu scored the winning goal more than a month ago is now used as a shelter for the homeless. Tents are lined up next to the entrance. Hatayspor left the league shortly after the earthquake, as did Gaziantepspor.
“It’s hard to describe our pain,” says Toksöz. The footballers had lost friends and were partially buried themselves. Many are in shock, trying to support them psychologically. Training is out of the question. “The whole city is busy clearing debris.” Facilities are damaged. Some players temporarily switched to other teams to stay in shape. The club hope to resume training in July or August.
In addition to the psychological burden comes the financial burden. Hatayspor has no more income. “Our entire annual budget of 350 million lira (the equivalent of around 17 million euros) has been lost,” says Toksöz. Turks living in Germany and Europe have offered financial support, but it is difficult to predict how much financial support will actually be needed.
The earthquake catastrophe also has political repercussions that are carried into the stadiums. From the stands, fans of Istanbul’s three big clubs, Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Galatasaray, demanded the government’s resignation. In the case of Fenerbahce, this developed into a dispute with the Kayserispor club. Because of the calls critical of the government, the fans were excluded from an away game. Fenerbahce President Ali Koc was upset.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was criticized after the quake: the president is accused of poor crisis management and failure in construction supervision, among other things. The building in which Atsu died had significant structural defects, as has since been established. According to estimates, around 1000 people lived in the so-called Rönesans residence with around 250 apartments – hundreds of people were buried there alone under the rubble.
Atsu’s fate, administration manager Fatih Ilek told the Turkish media after the earthquake, was particularly tragic: the player wanted to leave for France on the evening of the home game. Atsu canceled his flight and stayed to celebrate with the team. It was a special evening, Toksöz recalls. The coach dedicated the victory to Atsu, they hugged, the people sang. “We want to remember Atsu and everyone we lost so fondly.”