Turkey finally postpones its football league

Trabzonspor's supporters hold red flares and flags during the UEFA Europa League Group D football match between FC Basel 1893 and Trabzonspor AS at the St. Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel on December 12, 2019. (Photo by STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP) (Photo by STEFAN WERMUTH/AFP via Getty Images)

The Coronavirus outbreak has caught almost all sports on the hop, with tournaments and matches swiftly being cancelled or postponed across the globe. Football has not been spared, with the European Championships having to be moved back by a year to 2021, and almost all major football leagues coming to a complete standstill. I say almost, because, up until a few days ago, the Turkish Super Lig was operating as normal, with the upcoming weekend’s matches scheduled to go ahead. The Australian A-League is still continuing with matches behind closed doors, however, as is the women’s league, while the Brazilian football leagues also only came to a standstill this week after a fierce backlash from fans and players alike.

Turkey has around 190 cases of COVID-19 at the moment, with two deaths, and while the government had imposed travel restrictions, shut schools, restaurants, bars and libraries, football matches were still scheduled, albeit behind closed doors. This was causing a lot of distress to the players, and one high-profile example of this came with the case of John Obi Mikel. The former Chelsea midfielder had his contract with the league-leaders Trabzonspor cancelled after he refused to continue playing and criticised the Turkish federation for allowing the league to continue. Most other foreign players, including Radamel Falcao and Atiba Hutchinson, supported Mikel’s stance but did not make a public statement on this issue. It was the same across other sports as well – the basketball league was also set to continue behind closed doors. However, common sense finally prevailed, with the Turkish leagues being postponed on Thursday. This made it the last of the European leagues to be postponed since the coronavirus outbreak, leaving fans with virtually no options to turn to for entertainment. Recent weeks have seen alternate forms of entertainment, like streaming services, video games and online casinos rise in popularity, as people stuck at home turn to the internet for solutions, and it looks like this situation will continue for quite some time.

For Canadian football fans, this will rob them of the chance to see more of Hutchinson in action. The midfielder has been at Besiktas since 2013, having won two Super Lig titles with the club, and despite his advancing years, he was a regular part of the team this season as well, having made 23 appearances at the time the league was postponed. He is one of only two Canadians in the Turkish league, with the other one being Cyle Larin. Larin, who also plays for Besiktas, is currently on loan at Belgian club Zulte Waregem, where he has scored 7 goals and made 5 assists in 29 appearances. The forward had a difficult time in Turkey, having made only 28 appearances in all competitions across two seasons for Besiktas, which led to his loan to Belgium in July last year. He has been capped 31 times by the national team, scoring eight goals, and was part of the squad for the 2015, 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup tournaments. Larin and Hutchinson are on opposite sides of the spectrum as far as Canadian fans are concerned. One is a 24-year-old forward with a lot of potential for improvement and a long career for the national side in front of him, while the other is a 37-year-old defensive midfielder who has retired from international duty but could possibly still do a job for them, given the lack of quality in the side. It is ironic that Hutchinson has played far more for Besiktas than Larin despite being much older, and fans of both the Super Eagles and the Canadian national side will probably want the situation to reverse itself sooner rather than later.