Sultans of the Net 1 - Ultraconservatives 0: The new queens of volleyball in Europe become a symbol of resistance and democracy in Türkiye

Sultans of the Net 1 - Ultraconservatives 0: The new queens of volleyball in Europe become a symbol of resistance and democracy in Türkiye
Photo Source: Sultans of the Net, SolcuGazate via Twitter, 2023


Idil Igdir

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence

In the midst of Türkiye’s dark times, Sultans of the Net, now the new queens of volleyball in Europe, have become a much-needed light and a breath of fresh air for the Turkish people with their tremendous victories over the summer and their unwavering strong stance against the country’s ultra-conservatives. 

On September 3rd, 2023, the Turkish women’s volleyball team, also known as the ‘Sultans of the Net’, defeated two-time world champions Serbia 3-2 in a dramatic and nail-biting final match in the Belgian capital Brussels and won the 2023 CEV Women’s European Volleyball Championship title (Volleyball World, 2023).  There is no doubt that Türkiye held its breath on Sunday and stood united for the Sultans of the Net in their history-making match against its arch-rival Serbia. But what many people outside the county didn't know was that this match represented much more than national pride for its people. 

Determined to become champions, the team kept their nose to the grindstone all through summer first for the World Championship and then for the European Championship. But once again, some ultra-conservatives did not hesitate to point the finger and blatantly attacked the players whom they considered as not following or abiding by Islamic values. At the heart of these unacceptable hate messages and attacks was Ebrar Karakurt, one of the team's most valuable and successful players, known for her devotion and love for her country. While Karakurt's outstanding performance, personality and actions captured the hearts of many people in Türkiye, at least those who are not offended by the fact that a person is part of the LBTQ+ community, a group of ultra-conservatives and radical Islamists portrayed her as a potential threat, using the repetitive argument that she "disrupts traditional family values" (Poyrazlar, 2023).

So, as the team’s success came to the fore, the incomprehensible debate over Ebrar's sexual orientation became a major topic on social media, reigniting the country's bitterly divisive culture war. Among the attackers were political figures such as Ibrahim Melik Gökçek, the former mayor of Ankara from the ruling AKP party, who called for Ebrar's expulsion from the team because of her sexual orientation (Poyrazlar, 2023). Another overt attack came from the extreme right-wing Yeniden Refah Party, which called for Ebrar's removal from the national team, arguing that a member of the LGBTQ+ community cannot wear the national jersey in a Muslim country. Also, a comment made to Karakurt by a Twitter user who presented himself as Abdülhamid II, saying "As the Muslim Turkish nation, we continue to tolerate you..." sparked a great reaction on social media. Even though the player stated that she would give the same reaction regardless of the name of the person in question, the picture and profile page chosen by the user brought some historical and political debates. After all, Abdülhamid II was the last ruler of the Ottoman Empire, which was replaced by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's secular republic exactly a century ago.

One must not forget that Türkiye is going through a difficult period, to say the least, with its rampant inflation, the crumbling of the coalition of opposition parties thus the political polarisation, the continuous effect of the devastating earthquake, the influx of illegal immigrants, systematic attacks on women and girls and the slow but steady construction of a new society that is not representative of the people of the Turkish Republic (Hubbard & Harman, 2023). But even in this unbearable situation, Türkiye is a secular country founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and can in no way be deemed a Muslim country.

Nevertheless, the Turkish people have found light and pride in their women, despite the systematic attempts of some to suppress and undermine them. The team's victory, which was greeted with nationwide applause, was recognised by many as an achievement for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's secular republic, rather than just a simple victory in a volleyball match. In other words, with the score of Secular Republic of Turkey 1 - Radical Islamists O, democracy prevailed against Abdulhamid. 

Sources and further readings : 

Hubbard, B., Harman G. (2023, September 3). Amid struggles, Turkey finds heroes in its women’s volleyball team. The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 15, 2023 from 

Poyrazlar, E. (2023, September 5). LGBTQ+ volleyball champion hits a nerve in Turkey’s culture war. Politico. Retrieved September 15, 2023 from

Volleyball World. (2023, September 3). VNL champions Türkiye triumph at European Championship. Retrieved September 15, 2023 from