Today's Zaman
Sept 3 2008

The national football teams of Turkey and Armenia will compete on
Saturday in Yerevan in a World Cup qualifying match that has drawn
more interest from politicians and diplomats than the sports world,
but a professor of sports sociology has warned that politicians should
avoid mixing sports with politics.

Professor Ozbay Guven, the head of sports sociology at the physical
education and sports department at Gazi University, cautions that
people shouldn't attach too much symbolism to this match and should
not mix sports with diplomacy.

A member of the International Society for the History of Physical
Education and Sport (ISHPES), Guven talked to Today's Zaman about
the high expectations of Saturday's Armenia-Turkey match.

Noting that Turkish and Armenian sportsmen had competed many times
in sports other than football in the past, Guven said it is normal
for Turkish and Armenian nations to attach some symbolism to this
match. "First of all, it was inevitable that one day Turkey would
play against Armenia in such a match. Therefore, this event should be
viewed with reason rather than sentimentality. Actually, Turkey should
be happy as it will be playing against a weak team like Armenia. It
is very unlikely that Armenia will be successful in this football
match. They should regard this match against the Turkish national
team as an opportunity for furthering their relations with Turkey
and for the opening of borders," he says.

Guven advised that the Turkish national team should not underestimate
Armenia and that the Armenian national team should not give different
or historical meanings to the football match. "Although our rival,
the Armenian national team, seems to be an easy target, we should not
underestimate them. We saw what happened when the Maltese national
team played Turkey in 2007 and the game was equated to the Ottoman
siege of Malta. It is completely wrong to add symbolism to football
or other sports matches," he noted.

Professor Guven also emphasized that both national teams, their
players, their fans and their coaches should be ready to accept defeat
or victory and behave with good sportsmanship.

However, he said, the biggest responsibility falls on the shoulders
of Armenians in this respect. "Armenians should refrain from bringing
their ongoing propaganda against Turkey to the match and from fueling
tensions and prejudices. This football match may serve as a first step
toward the softening of relations and establishing friendship between
the two countries. The media organizations from both countries should
emphasize a love for sports," he says.

Guven maintained that depending on the atmosphere of the first match
in Yerevan, the second match in Turkey may be played in a tension-free
environment. He said the Turkish national team has learned not to mix
sports with diplomacy and foreign policy after obtaining considerable
success at the world and European championships.

"It seems that from the Turkish side, the match will be like a
friendship match. Turkey took this approach when it played against
Greece. If Armenian fans do not behave in a sportsmanlike manner,
the match's atmosphere may be tense. Serious measures should be taken
against provocation. Armenia should prevent Armenian fans from waving
banners or placards with provocative messages. However, if the players
or fans of one country attempt to provoke those of the other country,
FIFA has serious sanctions in this regard. FIFA can easily find out
who is right and who is wrong," he cautions.

He explained that Armenia is a weak rival for Turkey and that its
chances of defeating the Turkish national team are low. He suggested
that neither side should view this match as a national cause.

"While we see it as a sports contest, Armenians may turn it into a
national cause. Our image in the contest will be positive or negative
in the eyes of the world. This match may also serve to improve
relations by giving both sides an opportunity to get to know each
other and contribute to peace. It may bring us closer. Even if some
unwanted things happen during the match, we should not allow this
to have a negative effect on the lives of our Armenian citizens. Of
course, this will boost national sentiments, but we should not forget
the historical incidents in which acting out of emotion caused great
harm to both societies. This should never be forgotten," he says.

Guven added that while the Armenian national team is mediocre, it
tends not to lose matches played at home, and therefore, the Turkish
national team should be careful in the match.