Mission 89 & Istanbul Bilgi University Hold Round Table
On June 9th, Mission ‘89 and Istanbul Bilgi University, jointly hosted a virtual round table that discussed “the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed on the lives of migrant footballers in Istanbul”. The round table, co-moderated by Mission ‘89 Board Member, Yann Coelenbier and Faculty Member of the Sport Management Department at the Istanbul Bilgi University, Dr. Ilknur Hacisoftaoglu, invited experts from the fields of journalism, academia and city management to collectively address the difficulties faced by migrant athletes and victims of football trafficking in Istanbul, while encouraging cooperation and action at the institutional level.
Mr. Coelenbier outlined the importance of understanding the perspectives of both athletes and relevant stakeholder institutions, while encouraging a climate of cooperation and collective action, noting that “there is no one road to migration in sports. Every athlete has different motivations – but most importantly, they want to contribute and build a better future”.
In exploring the lived experiences of Istanbul’s migrant footballers, Dr. Hacisoftaoglu, who has been studying the topic for the past year, was clear in her assessment that “we have a problem in sports, particularly in football; the scale of the industry has made it a common destination for migrant footballers around the world”.
Head of the African Community in Turkey, Julius Kugor, pointed to lack of job prospects, as well as recent regulations in the lower levels of Turkey’s football pyramid as particularly troubling developments for migrant footballers. “Two years ago the Turkish Football Federation ruled that foreigners cannot play in the 4th and 5th division, so it has become very tough for migrant players”, he said.
Bagis Erten, Journalist & Production Manager at Eurosport, was less optimistic in his outlook for migrant football players in the wake of COVID-19, pointing out that uncertain financial health in the lower divisions is likely to make the protection of migrant athletes a low priority. He was of the view that “the only hope for migrant athletes must come from civic society, as the football industry’s agenda will be too loaded to consider anything else”.
At the institutional level, however, there appears to be enthusiasm for action. According to Coordinator of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Migration Unit, Simten Birsoz, they have expanded basic protection services to migrants in the city (providing nearly
8000 support packages thus far), while they continue to assess their action plan, which involves “creating harmonization opportunities between migrants and host communities and making municipal activities inclusive to migrants, including recreational sports funding”.
There was acknowledgment that those at the top of the Turkish football pyramid also have their part to play, through lobbying and public awareness campaigns. “Galatasaray are not part of the problem, but we can be part of the solution”, stated Istanbul Bilgi University Professor and Galatasary S.K. Board Member Emre Erdogan.
Mission89 Board Member Yann Coelenbier, ended the round table by emphasizing the power of cooperative discussions in tackling societal problems facing migrant athletes. “Cooperation is to create empowerment. We have clubs with resources, we have municipalities with the capacity to integrate and recognize, and we have athletes who wish to take action,” he concluded.