What event in Turkey today has captured public attention, hijacked the political agenda, and left Turks trembling in hope, fear and anticipation?
It’s not the referendum on proposed reforms to the country’s Constitution. It’s Turkey winning through to the final of the World Basketball championship.
Tonight they play – who else? – the United States.
The referendum campaign has been lively, to say the least. Plenty of friendly and unfriendly invective from both sides. Lots of flag waving. But when the street outside our hotel lit up at just before midnight last night, I knew something far more important than politics was afoot.
Slightly preoccupied with the fine details of constitutional reform until late into the evening, I had dimly registered the intermittent shrieks and yelps spilling out of the various bars in our locale. Turkey was playing Serbia in the Semis … the match – according to Volkan, our cameraman, who was watching the game – was “vonderful”. Closely fought, he told me. “The Serbians played better, but Turkey fought back very strongly.” 84-83. Go, Turkey.
Then the honking started. From my balcony high above central Ankara, I could see cars pouring onto the streets. They came racing past … flags streaming, ecstatic passengers hanging out of the windows cheering. Then the rhythm section started up. Drums are big here. Referendum? Who cares?
So it was that this morning, on the front cover of all but the most sober and devout Islamic newspapers, there was much more coverage of the basketball game than the proposed constitutional amendments (the reporting of which was in any case subject to pre-vote restrictions).
And so it also was, that when the prime minister voted this morning and was interviewed by the Turkish press pack on the perennially perplexing subject of Turkey’s future, he then announced that he was not flying to the capital city Ankara for the results. He was staying right where he was, in Istanbul – and watching the final.
US vs Turkey.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum (and actually as I write this early results suggest the government’s reforms have been accepted by a sceptical public) you can’t beat the feeling. The Turkey team have done incredibly well to get this far. The Twelve Giant Men (as they are affectionately known) just got a lot bigger.
I know the Turkey Al Jazeera English team is in Ankara for all the right professional reasons.. But tonight (don’t tell the news desk) we might just be watching the sports as well as the news channels. There are two scores that matter here tonight.