Turkey's forestry agency spent 10 times more on basketball teams than firefighting

Country has battled its worst fires on record over the past two weeks

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The Turkish government came under fresh pressure over its response to the bushfires that ravaged the country for almost two weeks after it emerged the forestry agency spent more than ten times its firefighting outlay on basketball.

The General Directorate of Forestry, or OGM, spent 40 million Turkish lira ($4.6 million) on Ormanspor men’s and women’s basketball teams last season, the agency’s financial records show.

It was revealed last week that OGM spent only 3.4 million lira in the first six months of this year on projects and equipment for preventing and combating forest fires, despite an allocated 193 million lira budget for such measures.

As Turkey battled its worst bushfires over the past two weeks, authorities were criticised for a lack of preparation in regions regularly hit by seasonal fire. Eight people have been killed and thousands of homes and businesses destroyed as the flames swept across the south-west coast and further inland.

Heavy rains helped to douse the flames over the weekend, with all the fires under control except for three blazes in the south-west, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on Monday.

“The OGM has an annual allowance of more than 4 billion lira and only 190 million lira of this has been allocated to fight the fires, of which only 3 million lira has been used,” said Murat Emir, an MP for the opposition Republic People’s Party, who submitted a written question to Mr Pakdemirli.

“However, when we look at the budget allocated to Ormanspor, we see that almost 40 million lira was spent. This budget is almost four times the size of that of Besiktas, who played in the semi-finals of the basketball league.”

Turkey has a history of public bodies – from municipal authorities to utility companies – funding sports clubs that play in the professional leagues.

Ankara-based Ormanspor – the name translates as Forest Sport – fields basketball sides in the men’s and women’s leagues. The women’s team finished the season in fourth place in May while the men were relegated from the top flight after coming last with only seven wins in 30 matches.

Mr Emir questioned some of the spending at the club and said it had not disclosed the amount spent on players’ wages.

He highlighted a director’s 38-year-old son who has been on Ormanspor’s books for 10 years and played for only a few minutes in 16 games last season. He also claimed a 42-year-old women’s team player was a friend of Mr Pakdemirli’s wife.

“The club does not disclose contract fees for players,” he said. “Why doesn’t a publicly funded club disclose contract fees for players?

“The OGM budget was planned as though there weren’t going to be any fires.”

Sports journalist Alp Ulagay said the "true figures" of spending lacked transparency. "In basketball and volleyball, particularly in clubs owned by public bodies, it’s very difficult to follow the spending and management,” he said.

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, which oversees the OGM, did not respond to a request for comment.

The OGM posted a statement on Twitter, later deleted the tweet, which described the suggestions as “far from reality” and claimed the “total budget for amateur teams that we support throughout Turkey through our two Super League [basketball] teams and regional directorates is 15 million lira”.

Referring to earlier revelations that the OGM report showed a nominal amount of 1,000 lira had been allocated towards the purchase of 26 helicopters, the directorate said the “trace allowance” was “intended to show that the project is still an ongoing project”.

The statement said a “total budget” of 1.5 billion lira for aircraft and land vehicles in 2021 and would be “spent by the end of the year”.

“What’s the source of the 1.5 billion lira?” Mr Emir said. “Will you spend it after the forests are burnt to the ground?”

Updated: November 01, 2021, 12:48 PM