This is Part II of Nick “Bones” Attewell’s piece with Rugby Revolutionary Oytun Çölok, the executive editor of the first and only Turkish rugby magazine, RugbyTurkiye.net. Çölok‘s made up for lost time quickly. After a brief playing career, he’s now refereeing alongside top class internationals and most recently he became an IRB Level 1 certified coach. With coach Niall Doherty, his mission is to build Rugby In Turkey. Please see Part I by clicking THIS.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Rugby and passion go hand-in-hand when it comes to rugby in Turkey. Here is Part II of Nick Attewell’s interview with Istanbul’s Rugby Revolutionary, Oytun Çölok, who along with Irish coach Niall Doherty, personify that passion…
– Turkey’s national team includes players from France, Germany and England with Turkish origins. Did the TRF reach out to players or did they express their interest in playing for the national team?
We feel grateful to have eligible players with strong rugby backgrounds. The TRF and Niall identified some players by holding camps abroad. After this they began to network on our behalf and further prospects were identified. Now several of them are playing for the national team.
– Turkey is set to begin play in FIRA Division 3 next year, where you will again face Slovakia and Estonia, and Azerbaijan who you haven’t played yet. Turkey and Azerbaijan have a similar culture and language, do you see a friendly rivalry developing?
Yes, because we have to play Azerbaijan with possible promotion at stake I’m sure a rivalry will develop. As you say we’re brother countries so while it may be intense on the field, off it we will have good friendships with their players I’m sure. For now, we don’t know where exactly the matches will happen. Keep an eye on our website for updates!
– Your neighbor to the east, Georgia, have been perhaps the best example of rugby expanding into a new market and becoming a national passion. Do you see any parallels between Georgian rugby and what is possible in Turkey? Have you worked with the Georgian union at all?
In sport, once Turks put our heart into something we take it to the end and succeed. For example, take a look at football and basketball; if you compare today with 15 years ago, we’re strong in both of these sports. They developed from the same amateur structures that Turkish rugby currently has. I think it’s safe to assume that rugby will be in a much different position in the next five years. Irrespective of Georgia, I think it’s obvious that rugby fits with Turkish people’s sports interests. We just have to get the game to reach the masses.
To date we haven’t worked with Georgia on development, it’s been all coach Niall Doherty.
– Who are some of your most promising players? What other sporting backgrounds do some of them come from?
I feel like we have a young group with lots of potential. I’d have a hard time singling anyone out. Many of them have roots in wrestling. One was even on the Turkish national team. Other than that it’s varied. We also have guys coming from football, judo, basketball, even American football.
– What’s in store for your domestic competition? To what degree do you see professionalism coming in, and will big names like Galatasaray or Fenerbahce ever return to rugby?
Last year was our most successful season by far. The improvement in play actually makes looking back on how things were sort of funny, but clubs are really putting in a big effort to become more organized. This year the structure will change but the federation is still working out details. There should be additional clubs in the top league for sure.
While clubs are operating with a budget now, I don’t think they’ll begin to pay players any time soon. It’s more important that they become financially sustainable first. Lots are university clubs so there isn’t a huge demand for player wages.
I think we will see interest return from clubs like Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. But it’s chicken and egg, does rugby need to become more popular for them to invest or would their investment make it more popular?
– What impact has the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics had on Turkish rugby and the perception of the sport in Turkey? Rio 2016 will mark rugby’s return to the games and Brazil have made strides toward fielding a competitive team. Istanbul is a strong candidate to host 2020. If you are awarded the games, do you think the government will make an effort to improve the strength of Turkish rugby?
It’s had a serious impact. As a candidate for 2020, it will be very important to be successful in sevens. The Olympic games are one of our biggest targets. And I’m sure if we’re awarded hosting rights we’ll find a way to qualify. I don’t see it as a dream, if we land the games we’ll work to make it reality. We are growing the profile of sevens already with the International Istanbul Rugby Sevens Tournament, of which RugbyTurkiye magazine is the media partner. It has been running for three years now and continues to grow in scope and profile.
As new members of Fira-AER, I believe that this tournament and the national team will be included in their plans in the near future.
– Lastly Oytun, what attracted you to rugby? Do you think it’s something that more Turkish people will get into, or will it remain a niche sport?
I got a late start to sports. Before rugby, I really only worked out to stay fit. My friends got me to come out to training and there was no looking back. To take the rugby field was a success in its own right, and it’s been a challenge I’ve enjoyed.
I truly believe Turkish people will fall in love with the sport once they get to know it. And this is one of the basic purposes of our magazine. To further spread awareness, we need to increase the number of high school and university teams. And the emergence of women’s rugby is promising.
–Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.