Running Out of People to Purge, Erdogan Targets Turkish Soccer Referees

Ninety-four soccer officials, including referees, have been purged in the wake of a coup attempt in Turkey.


Soccer: The world’s most universal and popular sport, the one that brings together the rich and poor, the young and the old, friends and enemies — and the one that apparently helps dissidents plan coups against the Turkish government?

On Tuesday, just over two weeks after opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to overthrow him in a military putsch, Turkish soccer authorities announced they had fired 94 officials — including a number of referees — accused of having ties to the attempted coup.  

“Our federation deemed it necessary to dismiss 94 people, including regional and nationally-ranked referees and assistant referees, regional refereeing committee members and national and regional observers,” the Turkish Football Federation said in a statement on Tuesday.

At this point, the announcement hardly comes as a surprise. It seems that essentially anyone, even a soccer referee, could be accused of participating in the military coup that embarrassed Erdogan on the national stage and sparked a crackdown so huge that it’s sparked public concern from the U.S., the European Union, and an array of European powers. More than 60,000 people — ranging from members of the military and judiciary to educators and various other civil servants — have been detained, investigated, or suspended from their positions as part of the state-wide purge.

Tuesday’s firings came two days after the TFF announced that every member of the federation’s committees had temporarily resigned in order to enable a security check over whether they have ties to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Erdogan claims is behind the coup.

According to Turkish media, a helicopter carrying at least one coup plotter landed in the Besiktas soccer club’s stadium the night of the coup, prompting concern there was collaboration from inside.

Germany’s Mario Gomez, a striker who played for Besiktas in Istanbul, has reportedly announced he may leave the team to avoid the tense political situation there.

Photo credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

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