The issues with penalties and general referee decisions in Turkey.

Updated: December 22, 2014

Over the past three days there has been a lot of controversy about the amount of penalties which Fenerbahçe have received so far this season, they won their match against Kayseri Erciyesspor with 1-0 after an 86th minute penalty from Emre Belözoglu. Their sixth penalty so far this season after 14 games in the league.

Public opinion and media alike jumped on this touting ‘Is the amount of penalties which Fenerbahçe receive normal?’. A question which in my mind is phrased poorly/wrong. The issue isn’t whether it’s normal for a team to have six penalties after fourteen games, the issue is: “Are these penalties legit?” and more importantly “Why aren’t other teams getting penalties so easily?”.

If we take a look at all six of these penalties one-by-one, most of them are actually legit spotkicks. Now the penalty which Fenerbahçe got in the 82nd minute against Gaziantepspor (also a 1-0 win due to that penalty) was an absolute farce and a blatant dive from the Fenerbahçe player in question Gökhan Gönul but appart from that penalty there is defintely a case to be made for all the others and in fact most or even pretty much without controversy.

It’s always up to a referee or his assistants (whoever makes the decision) to use their common sense, if a striker runs down on goal going one-on-one with a goalkeeper and ticks the ball past the goalkeeper forcing himself completely wide without a realistic chance at goal and then looks for the contact and goes down easily then a referee should have the common sense to say “this player had no intention of scoring normally and is simply looking for the penalty here since that is his best chance of getting his team a goal” and therefore not award the penalty. Something like this happend over the past week in the Turkish cup with Lualua (Caykur Rizespor) and Tolga Zengin (Besiktas), there wasn’t even contact in that specific case, Lualua ticked the ball past Tolga then jumps over him and dives to the floor getting his team a penalty.

Something similar happend in the Galatasaray – Mersin Idmanyurdu match over the past weekend (3-2 for Galatasaray). At a score of 1-2 (to Mersin), Burak Yilmaz comes one-on-one with their goalkeeper Nihat Sahin, ticks the ball to the right of the keeper then looks for the contact and goes down. The referee, who had earlier awarded a penalty to Mersin and had already (correctly) turned down two penalty shouts by Galatasaray prior to this felt this justified a penalty. A referee using his common sense would likely not have given it, especially knowing the reputation which Burak Yilmaz already has for being a diver. Whether there was contact here is hard to say, Nihat Sahin swears there wasn’t and was extremely upset after the match that the penalty was awarded, Burak Yilmaz of course claims there was contant. But does it really matter when a player is blatantly looking for a spotkick and the ‘advantage’ would have been gone had he not gone to ground?

The penalty which Fenerbahçe got on Friday is a very compareable situation. It was a combination of pressure from the crowd and mainly the Fenerbahçe players on the referee and a the official(s) not using their common sense.

In the 86th minute an indirect free-kick from about 35-40 meters out is curled in to the box. It gets deflected somewhere and ends up against the hand of a player which is falling to the floor after (slight) contact with an opposition player. The player has clearly lost his balance and therefore the control of his arms, the ball which hit his arm would otherwise have gone in a similar zone to be collected easily by the goalkeeper since there was no Fenerbahçe player in that zone. Fenerbahçe therefore does not lose any advantage by the unlucky contact with the ball/arm.

A penalty should only be given if there is intentional hands (which is definitely not the case here) or if a hands ball (even if it’s unintentional) blocks a dangerous shot or cross from going towards goal or towards an opposition player in the box. None of this was the case. Fenerbahçe fans and players will argue “there is clear contact there, so it’s a penalty.” but naturally they would be outraged if the roles would be reversed.

Initially the penalty wasn’t even given, but the Fenerbahçe players crowded the two officials (the referee and the man behind the goal) and pretty much made them ‘change their minds’.

At this point the referee is caving to pressure from the players and that speaks for the ability and authority of the referee. A good referee would stand by his gut feeling and judge this position with common sense rather than cave to the pressure of the players. But again, it’s not like there was no hands and the penalty was rewarded without any merrit. While a capable and confident referee would not have given this penalty, there is still a case to be made why this referee did give it: ‘there was a handsball in the box’. With football and many of it’s rules being open to interpretation and especially ‘common sense’ it leaves these types of situations open for a lot of debate.

To make a long story short though, from the six penalties there was one which clearly was not a penalty (v Gaziantepspor) and then you had this one and maybe one or so more which was definitely up for debate. However the matter really isn’t if it’s normal that a team has six penalties after fourteen games or not, the issue or the matter is in other games from other teams.

I’m going to use the example of Besiktas, but I could just as easily replace the name Besiktas with Eskisehirspor (for example) in many cases (although I will refer to specific penalty calls which weren’t given, my point is there are more teams which aren’t getting clear penalties on a regular basis).

Let’s just take the example of Demba Ba/Mehmet Topal in the week 8 derby with Fenerbahçe.

Now, I’ve made the case of ‘a referee should use their common sense’ earlier and now I’m first going to make the case of ‘but a referee is human and can miss certain situations and therefore not award fouls/penalties’, but then you also have these sort of situations where the referee OR one of his assistants is looking straight at, what is a very clear and grave foul in the box, and doesn’t even blink. Even worse, he gives the foul to the other team.

I elluded to it already but I think even if I didn’t most of you would know which position I’m talking about: at the score of 0-1 to Fenerbahçe 15 or so minutes before fulltime Demba Ba is literally wrestled to the ground in the penalty area as a free-kick curls in to the box. Rather than telling the referee that he should point to the spot, the man behind the goal who is literally 1,5 meters removed from the incident tells the man in the field to give a free-kick to Fenerbahçe rather than a penalty kick. It’s important to note that up till this moment pretty much every important call has gone against Besiktas, Olcay Sahan had already been sent off in the first half with his second yellow card for obstruction on the opposition’s side of the field while Emre Belozoglu (swearing at the referee) and Raul Meireiles (grabbing Veli Kavlak by the throat with both hands) remained on the pitch without even getting booked for these incidents. And you know, the usual, Fenerbahçe players go down at the slightest contact and get a free-kick while Besiktas players get dragged down and it’s play-on. A silly amount of time wasting pretty much since the 10th minute (them having taken the lead in the 3rd minute) without any action from the referee whatsoever, etc.

So, at this stage of the game you can not make a case for “well maybe the referee is compensating here because he feels he made a call earlier which was putting Fenerbahçe at a disadvantage”. No, this is simply a malevolant and extremely dodgey (you’d almost think the officials fixed the game in favor of one team) decision in a row of controversial and single-sided decisions throughout the game.

When penalty positions like this aren’t getting called for one team, and this wasn’t the first game where Besiktas have had clear penalty shouts ignored by the referee (I think there were 3 penalty shouts which were without question in the Besiktas vs. Rizespor game earlier in the season which ended in 1-1, and there are more examples), and then another team are getting pretty much anything which even looks slightly like a penalty (everything is of course an exaggeration) EVEN if all those calls were to be correct it still means that there is no level playing field in this league.

Let me put it this way, if you get run over by a car and you are awarded €50.000 and I get run over by a car and get nothing, is that fair? If your colleague makes a deadline and gets a €1.000 bonus and you make that same deadline but don’t get anything, is that fair?

In a competitive sports environment the rules should be the same for everyone. The playing field should be level for the simple reason of having a fair competition.

The question is not whether it’s normal for Fenerbahçe to have had six penalties so far, the question is whether it’s normal that Besiktas have only had 5 penalties in their last 106 Süper Lig games, yes you read that right one-hundred and six. You could argue that ‘well, on 14 games it’s very plausible for one team to get 6 penalties while another team only gets 1.’, that’s very plausible, but all plausibility goes out the window when one team gets 6 penalties in 14 games and the other team only got 5 in their past 106 games. That simply put isn’t normal.

It’s no coincedence that in 6 Europa League group stage games Besiktas have already gotten 2 perfectly legit penalties but in the league count themselves Lucky that they’ve even got one so far in more than double the games.

If we look at the following stats of the past 4,5 Süper Lig season’s there is an extremely disturbing pattern which becomes clear.

pkrc*Add 1 penalty for Galatasaray for the past weekend.

For those of you who don’t speak Turkish:

  1. Amount of penalties received in their advantage.
  2. Amount of red cards received by their own players.
  3. Amount of red cards received by opposition players in their games.

We see that Fenerbahçe have had 28 penalties, have only received 15 red cards and have had their opponents receive 31 red cards.

Galatasaray have received 24 penalties (this weekend’s penalty isn’t included on this picture), 24 red cards and their opponents have received 26 red cards. (these stats are more in balance, but there’s still a big difference with Besiktas)

And then Besiktas, they have received only 17 penalties (5 in the last 106 league games), have received a stunning amount of 36 red cards and their opponents have only seen red 20 times.


Now of course I am biased in my opinion, but does this seem normal to anyone really? Does Besiktas have a Diego Lugano or Bruno Alves who on a regular basis stands on opposition players’ legs? Does Besiktas have an Emre Belözoglu or Felipe Melo type player? Have They had such a player in the past 5 seasons? (Or 10 for that matter)

We also don’t have players who are known for diving, yet our penalty shouts get turned down much more frequently than those of teams who have players like Burak Yilmaz who are famed for their diving.

How is normal that in more than 120 league games one team gets only 15 red cards and another gets 36 red cards without the team getting so many red cards having especially aggressive players? We don’t have a Pepe do we?

I mean is Atiba Hutchinson an agressive player? Is Oguzhan Özyakup? Hell, even Veli Kavlak isn’t a dirty or agressive player. Sure he makes a lot of professional fouls but that doesn’t make you someone likely to get sent off, he knows that when he is booked he has to watch himself.

The difference here in beneficial stats are so big and the same goes for opposite stats. This simply put isn’t normal.

The issue in Turkish football is that, there are double standards. Some teams get away with murder on the pitch while others get red cards as if they were yellow cards with the worst thing being that the team getting so many red cards is arguably the fairest of the four teams in that list.

If we look at other leagues, let’s take the Belgium Pro League for example it’s far from awkward for a team to get 6-10 penalties in a single season. It’s actually quite common, you’ll see the same in pretty much every other football league. Yet in Turkey, if your name is Besiktas (or for that matter Eskisehirspor) you are Lucky if you get 3 penalties in a single season. And it really isn’t for a lack of handballs or fouls in the box.

It’s as if the Turkish officials think it’s unfair to give (correct) penalties? All you have to do is wach the summaries of every Süper Lig game for a week or two and see the amount of penalty calls, quite a few of them are legit calls, and then see how many actually get called. Then go and watch some summaries of two weeks of the Dutch Eredivisie, English Premier League, German Bundesliga or Belgian Pro League and see how many big and small teams get awarded with penalties…

It really isn’t anything special, penalties are part of the game, it’s normal that you get a handful of penalties every season and it’s also normal that you get a handful of them given against you. Yet in Turkey it seems as only one team is getting them on a regular basis at the moment. I would argue that Fenerbahçe isn’t getting an irregular HIGH amount of penalties, I’d just argue that other teams, among which Besiktas, are getting an irregular LOW amount of penalties.

And it’s not like the Turkish referee’s just miss these positions, they just flat out refuse to give them most of the time. And why? It makes very little sense, unless they are all betting on the amount of penalties called on a single matchday and they’re all in cahoots. It’s absolutely silly. If any non-Turkish football fan or pundit would regulary watch our league they’d have written this piece long ago most probably.


Oh and then of course you have the Football talk shows on Turkish television which are fueled by these controversies. It’s no coincedence that these shows have former Turkish referee’s like Ahmet Cakar, Erman Toroglu and Cem Papila as their pundits. In their careers as referee’s they were known for controversial decisions and they continued that past their career. Honestly, if you’re a dirty referee in Turkey you basically have a job for life. Dishonorable individuals get rewarded for their despiccable behavior in Turkey. The football pundit shows don’t revolve around debating football, they only want to stir the pot and create more controversy so they have people watching them.

Yesterday on Beyaz Futbol they were talking about Aliens. Yes, you heard that right Aliens. Like the James Cameron 1986 movie (one of my favourites by the way). I’d like to see that on Match of the Day, Extra Time or Studio sport Eredivisie. (no I really wouldn’t)



Kaan Bayazit

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Kaan Bayazit

Editor-in-chief at Beşiktaş International
Freelance sports writer specialized in Turkish football and Beşiktaş. Co-host of the Black Eagles podcast. Frequently featured in World Soccer Digest Japan and many other international media outlets. Following Turkish football for close to two decades. Proud father to Aedin.
Kaan Bayazit
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