Turkish commentator taken off air after mentioning Erdoğan ex-football star foe

Hakan Şükür (R)

A football announcer for Turkey’s public broadcaster TRT was taken off the air while commentating on a 2022 FIFA World Cup match after he mentioned the name of former national football player Hakan Şükür, who is living in self-exile in the United States because of his affiliation with a movement inspired by a Turkish cleric considered an arch-enemy by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Minute reported on Thursday, citing local media.

The faith-based Gülen movement is inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in the US who is accused by the government of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan. The movement is designated by Erdoğan’s government as a “terrorist organization,” despite its denial of involvement in the failed coup or any terrorist activity.

After Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech scored the first goal against Canada in the fourth minute of Thursday’s match, commentator Alper Bakırcıgil reminded viewers that it was Şükür who scored the fastest goal in FIFA World Cup history at 11 seconds against South Korea in 2002.

Bakırcıgil was taken off the air at the end of the first half of the match for his remarks about Şükür and replaced by Cüneyt Kıran, who commented on the second half, according to Turkish media. The highlights of the first half of the match were later also narrated by Kıran.

The move sparked outrage on social media. Many users, including Şükür, opposition politicians and journalists, accused the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of trying to erase the country’s history.

Şükür said in a tweet that the incident was important for exposing the current situation in the country. He added that he was very sorry and wished it was the last of its kind.

“Turkey has a long record of historical erasure… the current government is taking this into new and remarkable directions,” tweeted Howard Eissenstat, an associate professor at St. Lawrence University in New York state.

“They did not even let him report the second half of the game,” said journalist Banu Güven, adding that it’s the kind of incident that could also happen in China or North Korea.

Prominent Turkish journalist Memduh Bayraktaroğlu said the shame of the incident lies not with the “losers who run TRT ” but with the “losers who run the country.”

“What bigotry! The witch hunt in the country continues!” Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a tweet addressed to the ruling AKP, adding that they were being “ridiculous” for making such a move.

Gergerlioğlu also asked, in a parliamentary question to Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay, which footballer scored the fastest goal in FIFA World Cup history if not Şükür. The MP also asked why Bakırcıgil was replaced in the second half of the match if it was indeed Şükür and if the commentator did not give false information.

Şükür was also a former deputy from the ruling AKP.

As part of a large-scale crackdown on the Gülen movement’s members, an arrest warrant was issued for Şükür, who moved to the US in 2015, and the government confiscated all his homes, businesses and bank accounts in Turkey.

The former striker netted 51 goals in his 112 appearances playing for Turkey, making him the nation’s all-time top goal scorer.

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