Politics And Terror Could Hurt Turkish Soccer

Citing security threats and a frought political situation, German clubs are no longer going to Turkey, their once-preferred winter training camp destination. Will a player exodus be next?

by Brian Blickenstaff
Dec 27 2016, 5:07pm

This has been a turbulent year for Turkey. An attempted coup in July, a number of terrorist attacks—including one at the Istanbul airport in June that killed 45 people—and most recently, the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov. Whether we like it or not, what happens in the wider world has a tendency to get reflected in the sporting world. So it's no surprise that the instability in Turkey is beginning to reverberate through the world of soccer.

One of the subplots of the coming transfer window will be whether Turkey remains a popular destination for once-top players who are on the decline but not quite willing to give up on European competition for enormous paydays in the United States or Middle East. As of last summer, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Mario Gomez, Raul Meireles, Felipe Melo, and Nani—all over 30—were on the books at Turkish clubs. Partially because of these players, Turkish teams have remained relevant in the Champions League. But both Meireles and Gomez left before the start of the season. Gomez said he decided to move because he was scared for his safety.

The question is: Will the political situation continue to take the shine off Turkish soccer?

The transfer window isn't even open yet, but evidence suggests it will. While teams in England are involved in a busy festive season, leagues across Europe have just begun their winter holidays. Those holidays typically end with mid-season training camps, where players work on their sharpness before the beginning of the second half of the season. The training camps usually take place in warmer climates, with German clubs traditionally traveling to Turkey.

This year, that's changed. According to Chuck Penfold of Germany's Deutsche Welle, "16 of the 36 teams in Germany's top two divisions flew to Turkey for their preparations for the second half of the season last year, with the most popular destination having been the resort of Belek in the province of Antalya." This year, there won't be any German clubs in Turkey.

Penfold reports that Borussia Monchengladbach claims it's not going to Turkey because there aren't teams there to play friendlies against. That seems like a bit of a copout. Hamburg blamed an "unstable political situation," while Bochum coach Gerjtjan Verbeek specifically mentioned Turkish president Erdogon.

Changing preseason destinations for soccer clubs might seem like a relatively unimportant barometer of shifting geopolitical winds, but consider the source. Those same clubs are usually reticent to take political stances on, well, just about anything. Bayern Munich, for example, will still be traveling to Qatar for its training camp, despite the heavy criticism that country has faced for the deadly labor conditions guest workers there face as they build the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

Put differently, if you didn't think things are getting too bad in Turkey, consider that the situation is enough to move a number of conservative sports clubs to action. In a sense, they're a kind of canary in the coal mine.

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