Turkey wants more women and children at stadiums

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ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) - After watching more than 41,000 women and children cheering wildly and waving club-colored flags in a packed stadium, Turkish soccer authorities want more of the same.

Instead of the usual male-dominated crowds, the country’s soccer association plans to allocate at least some free tickets to women and children under 16 for all league games this season. The move is meant to encourage attendance 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 play Manisaspor in Istanbul, many wearing the yellow and dark blue shirts of Fenerbahce. The match, 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. Instead, it allowed 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 changed the tone at 50,000-seat Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, 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.

“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 stormed the field during a game 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.”

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