Turkey wants more women and children at stadiums

After watching more than 41,000 women and children cheering

wildly and waving club-colored flags in a packed stadium, the

Turkish football association said Wednesday it wanted more of the

same at its league matches.

Instead of the usual male-dominated games, the Turkish

association said it plans to allocate at least some free tickets to

women and children under 16 for all league matches this season. The

move is meant to both encourage their attendance at football games

and reduce violence.

”Turkish football needs this,” Turkish association deputy

chairman Goksel Gumusdag said.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women and children flocked to

see Fenerbahce take on Manisaspor in Istanbul, many of them wearing

the yellow and dark blue-colored shirts of Fenerbahce. The match,

which ended in a 1-1 draw, had been scheduled to be played in an

empty stadium as punishment for unruly fan behavior.

The association changed its rules this week, barring men from

attending games played by teams sanctioned for fan trouble and

instead allowing women and children under 12 to watch for free –

although a few men were in the crowd Tuesday.

”The answer has been quite clear that the more families you

have in the stands, the better the atmosphere you get,” Karen

Espelund, the first women’s delegate appointed to the UEFA

executive committee, said from a UEFA meeting in Cyprus. ”I think

this has the potential of filling up the stands but it’s definitely

also a strategy of having a slightly different type of

atmosphere.”

The women certainly created their own football flavor at Sukru

Saracoglu Stadium, which has a capacity of about 50,000 fans, by

greeting the visiting Manisaspor team with applause rather than the

usual jeers.

Even the players from both teams got involved, tossing flowers

to the crowd before the match started.

”It’s not always that you see so many women and children in one

game,” said Fenerbahce captain Alex de Sousa, adding the memory of

the night would stay with him forever.

Outside the stadium, men gathered and coordinated chants with

the fans inside. The men screamed ”Yellow” outside, while the

women responded with ”Blue” inside.

After the match, some men waited for their wives and children to

come out of the stadium.

On Wednesday, Fenerbahce thanked the women who made their way to

the stadium, and praised their understanding of the game.

”It was a good indication of Turkish women’s knowledge of

football,” said Yasemin Mercil, a female member of Fenerbahce’s

board of directors. ”The women knew when to shout, when to

protest. They blatantly showed that it is not the women who don’t

know the offside rule.”

Fenerbahce, which could lose its league title from last season

because of a match-fixing scandal, was ordered to play two home

matches without any spectators after its fans invaded the pitch

during a friendly against Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk in

July. That prompted the idea to let in the women and children for

free rather than have an empty stadium.

”It’s a very special decision for sure,” Espelund said. ”In

this case, it obviously has worked.”

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this

report.