In the end, football is not only football!

Source: İpek İzci, “Neticede futbol sadece futbol değil!” (“In the end, football is not only football!”) Radikal, 28 December 2013,

The book When Manhood Falls Offside is the story of Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ who lost his job as a referee because of his homosexual identity.

At the beginning of 2009, Trabzon District Referee Board asked me to provide certification regarding my mandatory military service requirement. The phrase “received a report for unfit to serve in the military” was written in my letter. I submitted the letter to the federation and continued my job as a referee for the next two months.  One day when I was getting ready to go to practice, I received a phone call from the person who is responsible for referee reassignments. He said, “Halil İbrahim, because you did not complete your military service, you cannot work as a referee.”

Because of a waist injury while playing amateur football in Trabzon, Halil pursued a career as a referee so that he would not have to be apart from football.  He began his career as a licensed referee in 1996. His fourteen-year-long career came to an end because the Turkish Football Federation’s Central Referee Board adopted a requirement in 2005 that said, “People exempted from the military because of health problems cannot work as referee.” However, the “disability report” was given only because he was a homosexual man. Dinçdağ did not have any medical problems and this was confirmed with official documents.

When Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet reporter Burcu Karakaş met Dinçdağ last year just before the hearing of the lawsuit he filed against the Turkish Football Federation, it was three years after he had lost his job as a referee. He has been unemployed since and repeatedly turned down for every job because his homosexuality had been revealed.  The book When Manhood Falls Offside includes the experiences of Dinçdağ, his interview with Karakaş, and LGBT activist Bawer Çakır’s article on gays’ fight for recognition in Turkey and how football has become a part of this struggle. We talked to the authors Karakaş and Çakır.

Let us remember some of the news headlines from that time: “Homosexual referee stirred up trouble,” “Homosexual referee wants his whistle back,” “Homosexual referee from Trabzon HID…” Even Dinçdağ’s family did not know his sexual orientation when it became a top story in the mass media. He got fired from the radio after working there for 12 years. He even received death threats and continues to do so.

Yes, the case that was labelled by the homophobic media as the “Fag referee case” became a top news story, but there were not many people who came to support him on the day of the court hearing.  So what made this case unspoken/unspeakable as if it was a rigging case?

Burcu Karakaş begins her thoughts by saying, “Homosexuality is not an illness, but homophobia is contagious and unfortunately, our society is a staunchly homophobic one…You are right, Halil’s court day should have been as crowded as the rigging case but we can look at it this way: During the Gezi resistance, the media was criticized with claims such as, “you are making us watch penguins.” The media played deaf and dumb for a while towards civilians who experienced police violence in the middle of Istanbul. For years, the violations of Kurdish rights were purposefully not shared in the mass media and some of the people who realized this situation with the Gezi protests apologized to the Kurdish community. Just three days ago, three people in Yüksekova (southeastern province in Turkey) died from bullets fired by the police. How many news reports have we heard about this in the mainstream media besides the perfunctory ones? Almost none! Because that place, is a “war zone.”  In other words, those who were shot must have done something that made the cops “angry.” Here, I find the situation of Halil similar to the Gezi protests, the rigging case, and Yüksekova. There are individuals who think Halil is an “exception” or even consider what happened to him as permissible because he is gay. How about the rigging case? Defaming a well-known team like Fenerbahçe and a gay referee fired from his job is not, as you can imagine, the same thing. The reason why both cases did not create the same effect is somewhat due to this.” 

Meanwhile, Bewar Çakır explains that if the court rules for Dinçdağ, a gigantic crowd fears that they can no longer say “faggot” to referees at the stadiums. Çakır says, “The plaintiff is a homosexual referee, the defendant is the giant Football Federation,” and he emphasizes that unlike Fenerbahçe, “in Dinçdağ’s hands, there is no media, no tycoons, or crowds that would applaud him. The media, including sports writers,  who are the trumpeters of the Football Federations of course turn a blind eye to Dinçdağ. Because, according to them, Dinçdağ’s fight is not civil rights issue. The problem is there are not enough courageous people both in the media and in the football world.”

Discrimination within the Football Federation is certainly not limited to sexual orientation. The fact that there were no Kurdish or Alevi referees during the 1990’s and today only 5 out 37 referees that work under the Super League come from the east of Ankara is another face of violence in football.

According to Çakır, the culture of football in Turkey is a circus in which the country’s racism, nationalism, and sexism are glorified. Çakır asserts that “While Kurdish people’s villages were burning, those who burned them were being applauded in the stadiums and “separatists” were being expelled. As women are being harassed on the street and LGBT people are being subjected to violence, the female body is being humiliated in the stadiums; with curses and cheers, sexism and homophobia are being propagated over and over again.” Çakır elucidates that football is an arena where Turkish society’s discrimination directly reflects and takes possession of.

In regard to racist expressions in the stadiums, Karakaş provides an example from the Bursaspor-Diyarbakırspor football game in 2009 and reminds us how “PKK Out” slogans were being chanted. “In the end football is not being played in a vacuum… Both players and fans are individuals that eat the bread and drink the water of this country. Can we say that a nation’s racist attitude does not influence football and its components? Of course not. So what I actually find weird is to be surprised about the discriminations that exists within the football community.”

So, what can we do to show a red card to homophobia and all types of discrimination? Where should we start? According to Burcu Karakaş, the Federation could start by discontinuing to deny what happened to Dinçdağ and accept the discrimination he experienced. According to Bawer Çakır, the Federation should organize campaigns to prevent all types of discrimination, these issues should be underlined during trainings; and sports media should be included in this training. Çakır emphasizes that the Federation should work with LGBT people, women, and human rights organizations. However, he says, “This is somewhat of a dream because first of all the Federation needs to accept that they have been unfair in the case of Dinçdağ” and adds, “ It is a nice pass actually, it is in their hands to hit 90 degrees and score.”

The other side of the coin is of course the media. According to Çakır, to achieve a media that does not tolerate discrimination, the first thing is to uproot the macho businessmen men from the seats they cling to and to hire women and men who are against discrimination.

The 11th hearing of the Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ lawsuit against the Turkish Football Federation for financial and personal damages will be held on 4 March 2014. On this occasion, Karakaş asks the football community and everyone who loves football: “With the door that Halil opened,  how about a discussion on “what is football, what is not?” In the end, football is not just football!”

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