When one thinks of soccer in Turkey, the first thing that would come to mind is the passion of the fans. The fans in Turkey have the reputation for being some of the craziest in Europe. But currently this season, the Turkish Super League has seen declining attendances. Where fans have once chanted for ninety minutes straight, they have been relatively silenced for the most part. Many have pointed out that this is the fault of a recently implemented electronic ticketing system called Passolig.
The Passolig system came as a result of the 2011 Violence in Sports Act (or Law 6222 on Sport). The purpose of the system is to prevent unwanted incidents, such as pitch invasions by fans, and hooliganism. The idea behind the system was to sanction individual fans instead of the clubs themselves for actions by fans. This has not been the case so far, as Galatasaray had to play in front of an empty stadium for their first home game of this season. But much of the criticism of the system derives from two factors. One is the nature of surveillance, and freedom of expression.
The threat of surveillance is one of the biggest criticisms of the system. Signing up for the system requires a fan to submit personal information, with one of them being which team the fan supports. Once registered, the person can only get tickets for games involving their supported club only. Tickets are not transferable, and one cannot take a friend to a game unless they are signed up for the system as well. Every seat in a stadium is associated with an ID number, so there is no fan anonymity. The personal information is then kept by AktifBank. AktifBank, who won the contract for Passolig last April, is owned by the son-in-law of then-prime minister, now president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With the bank having a monopoly over the administration of this system, Erdogan and his allies within his own AK Party have denied government tenders if said businesses were not favorable to the ruling party. While security cameras around the stadium wouldn’t be anything new for football fans anywhere, many fear that the cameras used in the stadium will be used to identify fans that the ruling party could potentially harass and target. This leads to fans, understandably, being very wary of what the government would do with their personal information.
This leads to the other criticism of freedom of expression. People in Turkey have used the stadiums as an outlet to exercise freedom of assembly. Passolig was announced in 2013, coincidentally after the Gezi Park protests. Many fan groups took to the streets to protest government policies. The Carsi fan group, who support Besiktas, was one of the most vocal in those protests. Earlier this September, several of their leaders were indicted by the government on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonments for those leaders of Carsi, accused of inciting people to stage violent protests against the government. With the law of Violence In Sports being very vague in its application, and the harassment of people protesting the government by the authorities, trust in the government is at a low point.
Attendances have suffered because of Passolig. Out of information available from transfermarkt.com.tr, only five teams have averaged over ten thousand people per home game. Even matches so far this season that would have attracted full crowds, such as Trabzonspor-Fenerbahce from week 2 and Bursaspor-Besiktas from week 3, have been played in front of some empty seats. Granted, most games last season without the Passolig system didn’t see sellouts, but the two matches mentioned generally produce sellout crowds. Considering that the Galatasaray-Fenerbahce derby is set to be played a couple of weeks from now, one can only think how Passolig will affect the attendance for one of the most famous derbies worldwide if the two previously mentioned matches are any indication. Passolig, however, does not affect the European matches, as evidenced by the near 60,000 in attendance for Besiktas’ Champions League qualifying match against Arsenal.
Implementation of the system, even after it was launched, has been an issue. Technical issues have seen fans waiting outside, even with a ticket bought via Passolig, even when the match has kicked off. This has even extended into European matches. Galatasaray’s Champions League match against Anderlecht saw many empty seats in Europe’s biggest club competition. For European matches, fans who signed up for the Passolig system could get their tickets in an exclusive pre-sale, but for many of those fans who had a ticket, the system had issues preventing many fans from getting in. Fans have boycotted by not going to games at all, or have started attending lower division domestic matches where Passolig has not been implemented.
With the declining attendances, Turkish football matches don’t seem to have the appeal it had once had. With people frustrated by Passolig for various reasons, it has made people watch the game on television and avoid the stadiums altogether. It makes you wonder what impact it may be having too on Turkish football betting sites. Whether this system will continue or be scrapped remains to be seen. But regardless, attendance at the stadium is important for the clubs to generate revenue. With the empty stands seen on television, it doesn’t provide a good impression on a first time viewer of the Turkish league. With that, the soul of football in Turkey may be lost, possibly for good.