Christian Atsu's last goal is captured on video: a free-kick, which he twirls into the left corner. Only a few hours before the devastating earthquake on 6 February in southeastern Turkey, the professional footballer gave the Süperlig club Hatayspor a victory over Kasimpasa.
"The whole city was going crazy, everyone was so happy because this victory strengthened our hopes of retaining the league," recalls the club's deputy chairman Aydin Toksöz of the last hours before the quake. Shortly thereafter, Atsu, like tens of thousands of other people, was buried under the rubble. His death was confirmed on February 18 after nearly two weeks of uncertainty, and hundreds of people said goodbye to Atsu in Ghana's capital Accra on Friday.
Stadium as an emergency shelter for the homeless
The earthquake has brought unbelievable suffering to Turkey and also deeply affected sport. Sports facilities were destroyed, athletes were killed. In the particularly hard-hit regions, regular sports operations are out of the question. Particularly tragic is the fate of young volleyball professionals from Northern Cyprus, who had travelled with their school team for a tournament. The hotel in Adiyaman, where the girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 14 were staying, collapsed. None of the 25 children could be saved.
Hatayspor has lost other team members besides Atsu: sporting director Taner Savut and several junior players also died under the rubble, says Toksöz. The first division club bears its home in its name: Hatay – one of the provinces most affected by the quake. The stadium where Atsu scored the winning goal more than a month ago now serves as an emergency shelter for the homeless. Next to the entrance, tent after tent is lined up. Hatayspor left the league shortly after the quake, as did Gaziantepspor.
"It's hard to describe our pain," says Toksöz. The footballers had lost friends and were partly buried themselves. Many are in shock, one tries to support them psychologically. Training is out of the question. "The whole city is busy clearing rubble." Facilities were damaged. Some players have temporarily moved to other teams to stay in shape. The club hopes to resume training in July or August.
In addition to the psychological burden, there is the financial burden. Hatayspor has no more revenue. "Our entire annual budget of 350 million liras (the equivalent of around 17 million euros) is lost," says Toksöz. Turks living in Germany and Europe have offered financial support, but it is difficult to predict how much financial aid is needed.
The earthquake catastrophe also has political repercussions that are carried into the stadiums. Fans of Istanbul's three big clubs Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Galatasaray demanded the resignation of the government from the stands. In the case of Fenerbahce, this developed into a dispute with the club Kayserispor. Because of the anti-government calls, the fans were excluded from an away game. Fenerbahce president Ali Koc was furious.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had come under criticism after the quake: poor crisis management and failure in construction supervision are accused of the president, among other things. The building in which Atsu died had significant construction defects, as has since been discovered. According to estimates, around 1000 people lived in the so-called Rönesans residence with around 250 apartments – hundreds of people were buried there alone under the rubble.
The fate of Atsu, as administrative manager Fatih Ilek told Turkish media after the earthquake, was particularly tragic: The player had wanted to leave for France on the evening of the home game. However, Atsu let his flight expire and stayed to celebrate with the team. It was a special evening, Toksöz remembers. The coach dedicated the victory to Atsu, they hugged, people sang. "We want to keep Atsu and everyone we lost in such good memory."