Women's Game Going Skywards In Turkey

11 April 2014

EUROLEAGUE WOMEN

Birsel Vardarli answers questions from the Turkish media in Ekaterinburg
Birsel Vardarli answers questions from the Turkish media in Ekaterinburg

By Paul Nilsen

With less than six months until the FIBA World Championship for Women tips-off in Ankara and Istanbul, women's basketball in Turkey is slowly but surely permeating into the mainstream media like never before.

During recent years there has been something of a twin elevator in operation, with both the national team and the TKBL ascending alongside each other both in terms of results and their profile.

Right now at least, that sky-bound trajectory shows no sign of slowing down - as evidenced by Fenerbahce and Galatasaray odeabank both reaching the semi-finals of the EuroLeague Women Final Eight with a core of Turkish stars.

One of the other main developments recently has been the way that women's basketball has been able to capitalise on the largely uninspiring performances of their male counterparts.

"Before there was no reason to compare, but slowly the difference is closing," explained journalist, Gökhan German of the popular Fanatik.com.tr.

"Everybody has an interest with men's basketball, but they have had no success and especially this year with Fenerbahce where [Zeljko] Obradovic was a big disappointment.

"Like Efes in the past few years, they always spend a lot of money but do nothing.

11. Nevriye Yilmaz (Galatasaray odeabank)
Questions linger over how Turkish basketball will cope following the retirement of the likes of Nevriye Yilmaz

"In contrast, women's basketball is our pride - both club teams and also the national team. They deserve more interest and now I hope they get it."

Travelling to the likes of Ekaterinburg to cover the women's game is now becoming the norm for sports journalists in Turkey according to German - even if there is still much more to be done.

He said, "Every newspaper has one basketball columnist or reporter and we take care of all the men's Euroleague and Eurocup teams, as well as the women and everything else.

"We were also here in Russia last year, but with three Turkish teams reaching the Final Eight, there are more journalists here this time.

"For me it's very important that all the newspaper and television channels now give space to women's basketball and I hope this will continue both during and after the FIBA World Championship for Women," continued German.

"After the silver medal at EuroBasket Women 2011, Fenerbahçe reaching the EuroLeague Women Final last year, the bronze medal at Eurobasket Women 2013 and the club teams making large investments during last summer, the interest has certainly increased - but maybe it is still not at the desired level."

For sure, the elevator of success is moving up through each level at a steady pace, but the sky isn't necessarily the limit and there could soon be a glass ceiling which the women's game in Turkey will still have to prepare to smash through.

There are arguably three big issues and firstly, what will happen when world class players like Nevriye Yilmaz and Birsel Vardarli take a step back and specifically, who might be able to replace them to help keep the momentum of podium challenges and finishes rolling.

4. Isabelle Yacoubou (Fenerbahce)
When Galatasary meet Fenerbahce in any sport, there is a guarantee of big interest surrounding the contest

Secondly, what the impact will be on ‘foreign' stars dominating the Turkish League and finally, whether women's basketball is simply far too Galatasaray and Fenerbahce centred. That of course, is not a challenge confined to the women's basketball.

"Right now everybody in Turkey is interested in EuroLeague Women Final Eight, but that is mainly because it is Fenerbahce and Galatasaray that are here," conceded German.

"The eternal competition between these two clubs is always important in any aspect and if they were to play absolutely anything at all against each other, then thousands of people come would come and watch.

"Still, there are millions of fans in Turkey who are waiting for the semi-finals."

Yet despite the space which is taken up in the media from the respective juggernauts from Istanbul, German points out that when it comes to actual interest on the ground in terms of spectators, women's basketball is thriving all over his nation.

"There is a huge local interest around the country for the Turkish League," he declared.

"Thousands of fans go to arenas in places like Mersin, Adana, Ordu and Samsun for every game - even if the national media don't yet care enough to give them the credit or coverage they deserve."

The FIBA World Championship for Women is scheduled to run between 27 September and 05 October.


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