What Passolig is, and what it is not

Updated: September 25, 2014
photo courtesy of @tekyumruk

After the first few weeks of Turkish football leagues with Passolig, stands are empty every game and football quality is suffering as well as club finances.

Lately, Passolig has been a topic that is being discussed in many different ways. For the complete stranger; Passolig is a kind of an ID card which is compulsory for anyone who wants to watch a football game live at a stadium in Turkey. To an average fan or enthusiast who is keeping up with news from conventional media such as TV or newspapers (or the websites of those), there may be little to no relation with the horrid state of football and Passolig; but then there is more than meets the eye.

History of Passolig

The first talks about Passolig and its implementations go back to summer of 2013 and it became compulsory in summer of 2014, but it all started back in 2011 with the famous 6222 law. Advertised as a law to prevent violence and regulate some legal aspects of sports, the law was already being heavily criticized for not addressing the issues it is intended for and just lifting some responsibility from the shoulders of the state or clubs.

Since 2011, the real life implications of the new law were going to and fro; and the neverending discussions about the football fans and clubs and match fixing and violence and the influence of politics into football were going on as hot as ever. One of the things the law changes in theory was the ownership of the responsibility of unwanted incidents. Normally, after an incident (usage of profanity, fans on pitch, objects thrown on pitch, fight among fans etc) the club(s) were punished by fines ranging from a few thousand euros to having to play without fans or having to play in another stadium far from home. This specific chapter of the law was giving the clubs a new responsibility in exchange for being responsible for all incidents. The troublemakers now will be responsible from their own actions individually instead of the club; but the club has to implement the necessary infrastructure to determine who are the trouble making individuals. The description in the law is rather vague, and it is not really clear what kind of “infrastructure” is necessary.

After the massive Gezi protests in the summer of 2013; where it became evident that many of the fan groups, especially Çarşı was influential in the resistance against the government, was Passolig announced. Cameras and other security devices would be installed to all stadiums by the same company who will collect all personal information from anyone who goes to a football game. The cost of the infrastructure would be paid by the fans who are buying tickets to games.

Doubts of Corruption and Government Surveillance

Dubiously, this job of collecting all the personal information of all the fans and installing the system was contracted to a bank owned by the son-in-law of the then prime minister Erdoğan. Moreover, everybody who bought tickets would automatically have a bank account and a credit card from the very small (had only 8 branches when won this bid over a consortium of 6 banks + national post company) sized bank, which will boost the customer base and thus value of the bank. All these raised even more suspicions about the new system.

The aspect of this system which is the topic of the hottest debates, however, was the surveillance nature of it. Belonging to a fan group or not, most football fans were frustrated to be obliged to give all their personal information to this surveillance program. This tendency of fans is quite understandable as tens of Beşiktaş fans are now facing a trial to condemn them to sentence for life for protesting the government.

Problems in Implementation

There were also impracticalities about the system. For example when obtaining this card one has to declare which team one is supporting and can only buy tickets to games of that club. That means somebody does not have the chance to go see a random football game unless that somebody is not a registered fan of one of the clubs playing. The application and approval process is just too much hassle for people who only see a few games a season. The yearly fee to be paid equals more than 5 games worth of ticket prices for small teams. In addition to those, the problems supposed to be solved by this new system have not improved at all. In contrast to the main aim of the 6222 law and Passolig system, clubs keep on receiving punishments instead of individuals.

Months after the launch, it is still not reliably working technically which leaves many fans who went into all the trouble of obtaining Passolig and paying for a ticket waiting outside the stadiums during the game waiting for the system to become online again so they might get inside. Usually after such changes everybody whines for some time and slowly obeys after some time has passed. This time people did not take a step back, many are actively boycotting while even more are on passive resistance by just not going to games and the stands are nearly empty every game of every team. The clubs are bleeding money as the gate revenues are suffering heavily. Even the Bursaspor-Beşiktaş game which is very important for Bursaspor fans and full every year was played on stands relatively empty.

Turkish Media Collaborating with Passolig

Lastly, the stance of traditional media about this elephant in the room is an amazing act of playing the dumb. There are long actual Passolig infomercials disguised as TV shows. In most of the popular programs about football, there are at least a few minutes allocated to say good things about Passolig. On the other hand, reality is obvious and the stands are empty. Some of the media sources are blaming the fans for not being faithful to their clubs or just not showing up because they didn’t feel like so, some others are outright lying. For example, After the Beşiktaş-Rizespor game played to an audience of only a few thousands, Şansal Büyüka was saying “There are 30000 people in the stands at the moment but the architecture of the stadium makes it look like there are fewer”.

How Will the Game End?

If the purpose of this new practice was to prevent people from gathering to become big crowds, it hits the bulls eye. Beşiktaş is now averaging a meager few thousand fans after first two home games whereas last season that was more than 55000 fans for the same time period. It is still unclear what the outcome of Passolig will be. Will it be cancelled? Will the fans give up and start getting them? Is it really a project of surveillance mixed with corruption or are the fans just being paranoid? Time will answer many questions. As of now, we know at least one thing: Turkish football without fans might not be something worth watching.

(Emrah Dinçer)