The cost of missing out on this year’s soccer World Cup just got much higher for Turkey.

After losing on away goals to Switzerland in last November’s
qualifier against Switzerland, Turkish players and officials lost their
cool.

As both teams were leaving the field, Swiss
officials were kicked, players were punched, many ending up in hospital. The Swiss
left the ground under a barrage of objects thrown from the crowd, and there’s
footage of Turkish assistant coach Mehmet Ozdilek trying to trip over a Swiss
player. Much worse happened in the tunnel to the dressing rooms.

Turkish fans have a history of hostility
towards foreign players and fans. In 2000, two Leeds United supporters were
stabbed to death before a UEFA Cup semi-final – the ringleader was subsequently
jailed for 15 years.

Following the incident involving the Swiss,
FIFA president Sepp Blatter mooted the possibility of Turkey
being banned from the 2010 World Cup, which seemed a rash statement at the time
but indicated how seriously FIFA viewed the incident. It last happened for the
1994 World Cup, when Chile was banned after its goalkeeper cut himself and claimed he’d been
hit by a object thrown from the crowd.

An investigation into the incident finished
yesterday, and although Turkey haven’t been banned from 2010 World Cup, they have been dealt FIFA’s
most severe sanctions ever.

Turkey will play its next six matches at neutral venues, no less than 500
kilometres from the Turkish border. Although Ozdilek resigned soon after the incident,
he was banned from all soccer related work for 12 months. Turkish players Emre
Belozoglu and Alpay Ozalan will miss their next six internationals, as will
Swiss player Benjamin Huggel, counting him out of the World Cup. Turkey
was also ordered to pay 20,000 Swiss francs procedural costs.

But don’t expect Turkey to
go down without a fight. Appeals are being talked about, and there are already
claims that the investigation was biased because Sepp Blatter is Swiss.

“I describe this decision as unacceptable.
This is a political decision rather than a sports decision,” Turkey’s
sports minister Mehmet Sahin said.

Aside the bluster generated in Turkish football
circles, the subtext of these sanctions is clear. Misbehave at this year’s
World Cup and we’ll make you pay. And that includes you, the fan.

Peter Fray

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