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Time, gentlemen: Efes Pilsen, Turkey’s top basketball team, is forced off court


Turkey’s most successful basketball team found out yesterday that it must change its name or close down because it shares its name with an alcoholic beverage. The team falls foul of new laws passed by parliament that broaden the ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising to the naming of sports clubs. Efes Pilsen, the team named after Turkey’s most popular beer, is the most prominent victim of the new rules.

Alcohol has a long history of sport sponsorship around the world. One Canadian brewer that backed England’s football Premier League for years now has its name splashed all over the Carling Cup competition, whilst rugby union’s Heineken Cup would be an entirely different affair without that famous Dutch beer. It’s happened in Turkey too: Efes Pilsen and Tuborg are two examples of teams carrying their sponsor companies’ names.

Turkey’s latest alcohol advertising ban is not unusual. France, where the Heineken Cup is abbreviated to the “H Cup”, also restricts alcohol sponsorship in sport. But critics say the Turkish version was passed to placate the pious supporters of the governing party. The AK Party is mildly Islamic, to put it, well, mildly, and few doubt that some sections of its voting base would happily see alcohol banned in the country entirely. Council leaders have often spoken of plans to move all licenced restaurants and bars within their town to an allocated zone, effectively a red light district, and to issue a ban outside it. Nor is the trend restricted to excitable local politicians. The cabinet has not been shy to raise the consumption tax on booze – it increased by as much as 30 percent last October, much to the chagrin of consumers such as the Turkish Wine Forum.

Efes Pilsen now has a year to change its name, and it’s not clear what route the team is going to take. Anadolu, Efes’s parent company, has signalled it might pull out of basketball entirely. That would be a tragedy, depriving Turkish basketball of its most successful team ever: Efes Pilsen has won the national league 13 times and has a European title under its belt too. Another possibility is to drop Pilsen from the name, so as to become Efes Istanbul or Efes Anadolu. A third option would be to merge forces with an existing club – Beşiktaş Efes, anyone?

UPDATE (09 January, 2pm): An internet campaign, “Kulübüme dokunma – Don’t touch my club” has appeared collecting signatures against the new law. See it at kulubumedokunma.com.

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