Turkey’s Women’s Volleyball Team Inspires Pride

Turkey’s Girls’s Volleyball Crew Conjures up Pleasure

Because the volleyball sport neared its finish, hundreds of followers watching on large screens in an Istanbul park rose to their ft and fell silent. The ball soared, a Turkish participant set it up close to the online, and her teammate spiked it. Her Italian opponents blocked the shot however knocked the ball out of bounds, handing victory to the Turks and inflicting the gang to erupt into chants of “Turkey! Turkey! Turkey!”

The nail-biter victory on Friday by Turkey’s nationwide ladies’s volleyball group within the Girls’s European Volleyball Championship was the latest conquest by the nation’s most profitable main sports activities group, a report that has turned it right into a uncommon supply of nationwide delight that holds attraction throughout the nation’s social divides.

Whereas some ultraconservatives have attacked the ladies as an affront to Islamic values, their followers laud them as paragons of feminine empowerment in a rustic the place many ladies really feel they’ve but to attain social equality. And the group’s successes are a welcome vibrant spot for Turks combating sky-high inflation, political polarization and a sluggish restoration from devastating earthquakes in February that killed greater than 50,000 folks.

Affectionately known as “the Sultans of the Web,” the group received the Volleyball Nations League championship in July in Arlington, Texas, and have become the world’s prime rated ladies’s nationwide group, based on FIVB, the game’s worldwide governing physique. On Sunday, they face Serbia within the last match of the European championship in Brussels.

At residence, the group’s video games are aired dwell by the state broadcaster and its gamers exude star energy. Legions of followers on social media rejoice their accomplishments, monitor their frequent hair-color adjustments and speculate about their romantic entanglements.

Company sponsorships and state assist have flowed in. In 2021, when Turkey granted citizenship to the Cuban-born participant Melissa Vargas, she obtained her new Turkish ID card from none apart from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“They’re fighters,” stated Ceren Duyan, a biologist at a biotech firm who watched Friday’s sport within the park. “After we see ladies do good issues in sports activities or anyplace else, we see that we too might be highly effective.”

The volleyballers’ rise comes amid a global reckoning with how feminine athletes are handled in contrast with their male counterparts. Final month, the top of the Spanish soccer federation was suspended after giving a feminine participant an undesirable kiss on the lips. In July, the BBC apologized after considered one of its reporters requested the captain of the Moroccan nationwide ladies’s soccer group if any of its gamers have been homosexual.

Turkey’s group has largely averted such controversies, though the gamers’ private kinds have linked them to a few of Turkey’s deepest divisions.

Whereas its persons are predominantly Muslim, Turkey was based in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, its first president, as a secular state. A lot of Turkish politics revolves round struggles between those that treasure the nation’s secular legacy and people urgent to broaden Islam’s position in public life. The latter camp contains Mr. Erdogan, Turkey’s predominant politician for 20 years.

The gamers are clearly within the former camp.

They don’t cowl their hair or put on clothes that conceals their our bodies, as most religious Muslim ladies do. As a substitute, they seem in the usual uniform of shorts and tank tops, and a few sport tattoos. Ms. Vargas, the group’s prime scorer, has lately appeared on courtroom along with her hair dyed electrical blue or bleached blond, with a blue lightning bolt over her ear.

After a victory on Wednesday in opposition to Poland, one participant, Zehra Gunes, instructed Turkish reporters that the group was advancing Ataturk’s imaginative and prescient for Turkey.

“As Turkish ladies, we attempt to be position fashions for future generations by holding a light-weight on the trail that Ataturk confirmed,” she stated.

One other star participant, Ebrar Karakurt, obtained floods of hateful and homophobic messages after posting images of herself on social media in affectionate poses with different ladies, and an Islamist newspaper known as her “a nationwide disgrace.”

In 2021, when the group was competing within the Summer time Olympics in Tokyo, a distinguished preacher sharply criticized the group for not adhering to his conception of how a Muslim lady ought to behave.

“Lady of Islam! You aren’t the sultan of the courts; you’re the sultan of religion, advantage, chastity and decency,” the preacher, Ihsan Senocak, wrote on X, the social media platform previously often called Twitter.

A spokesman for Turkey’s volleyball federation finally responded to the hubbub, praising Ms. Karakurt for having the “the spirit of a fighter to signify her nation.”

“Everybody’s personal life issues them solely,” the spokesman stated. “All the remaining is hokum.”

Ms. Karakurt has lately struck again at her critics in her personal means.

Final week, an X consumer named Abdulhamid responded to considered one of her posts, saying, “Because the Muslim Turkish nation, we proceed to place up with you.”

After Friday’s victory, Ms. Karakurt posted a photograph of herself holding a sign that learn, “Lower the crap, Abdulhamid.”

The group’s successes resonate as a result of Turkey has lengthy seen sports activities as a solution to assert itself globally.

“It was at all times the motive of Turkish sports activities to achieve success in worldwide encounters to show that we’re reliable — as highly effective, as profitable, equals to our Western friends,” stated Daghan Irak, a senior lecturer in media communication on the College of Huddersfield in Britain. “It’s a essential a part of our society’s psyche by way of sports activities.”

Mr. Erdogan and his authorities could not recognize every little thing concerning the group’s public profile, Mr. Irak stated, however the president most definitely appreciates their inspirational worth.

“Clearly, Erdogan is extra within the nationwide delight this group generates than the life-style questions,” Mr. Irak stated.

Mr. Erdogan, an avid soccer participant in his youthful years, has not attended any of the group’s video games. However he did name Eda Erdem, the group’s captain, after its first sport within the Tokyo Olympics to say he had been watching.

“You made us sentimental, you made us teary,” Mr. Erdogan stated, passing his greetings “to all the women.”

After the group received a match this summer season, an opposition lawmaker, Gulcan Kis, filed an inquiry to the Parliament asking why Mr. Erdogan’s sports activities minister had not attended any video games and prompt it was to keep away from angering conservatives.

“Is the concentrating on of the nationwide ladies’s volleyball group by spiritual students the explanation in your absence from the ultimate sport?” Ms. Kis requested.

However the squabbles haven’t harm the recognition of girls’s volleyball, or the huge infrastructure supporting it. The nationwide ladies’s league is massively aggressive and wealthy in sponsorships. And the Training Ministry runs a “Sultans of Tomorrow” program to introduce the sport to ladies in provincial cities.

The success of the nationwide group has attracted a brand new era of ladies to the sport, stated Neslihan Demir, who retired from the group in 2017.

“All of the little women in Turkey wish to play volleyball now since they’re watching their massive sisters as position fashions,” she stated.

The gamers’ broad social acceptance has inspired dad and mom to let their daughters play, too, she stated.

Ms. Demir recalled assembly a household who requested her whether or not their 9-year-old daughter might develop into a Sultan of the Web.

“Begin without delay,” she instructed them.

Safak Timur contributed reporting.

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