Turkey has embraced a 13-year-old handballer after an interview where she cries while recalling people telling her she can’t play with boys and wear shorts drew nationwide support for her.
Merve Akpınar, from the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, said in an interview with Demirören News Agency that she wanted to become a role model for all the village girls in her neighborhood by encouraging them to participate in sports. At the young age of 13, Akpınar faced gender discrimination for wanting to play the sports, she said in the video that was shared widely on social media.
“My life changed with an interview. People posted my video online, called me and thanked me and my family,” Merve Akpınar said on July 6 after the interview.
Akpınar and her team were invited to the capital Ankara by the Handball Federation last weekend. After a match she played, a reporter from the news agency began asking her questions.
In her local accent, Akpınar sobbed and said, “People excluded me at the beginning. They said, I was a girl and should not wear shorts, that my body parts would show.”
“I promised myself that I will be the voice of the village girls and change their destinies. Then I went on to do sports, and I will never give up,” she added.
The interview footage was liked and shared by millions, as Akpınar drew immense support in the space of a few hours only.
The country’s sports powerhouses Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş posted tweets in support of her.
Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu called Akpınar by phone and reportedly said, “I will always be beside you as your elder brother.”
A businessman reportedly got in touch with her, who said she wanted to become a brain surgeon and a national handball player, and said he would cover all her education expenses in high school.
Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş said on Twitter that the municipality’s sports team will establish a sister sports team in Şanlıurfa with the name “Güneşin Çocukları” (“Children of the Sun”).
After the massive love shown for Akpınar, Demirören News Agency found her in her hometown and asked her how she felt about all the support and solidarity shown for her.
“First of all, I want to thank the reporter in Ankara. She changed my life. Then I thank all the supporters. I am very happy and also excited,” she said.
When asked what surprised her the most, she said she had been noticed by the famous popstar Hadise, who once represented Turkey at the Eurovision song contest.
“Hadise uploaded the video on her social media accounts. She has many followers. I was so happy.”
Akpınar said she is aware of the fact that more responsibility falls upon her over her ambitions for girls like her.
“I am not only Merve anymore. From now on, I am Fatma, a cotton picker from Çukurova [region in the south]. I am Tuğba, a tea picker from Karadeniz [northern region]. I am a hope for all girls,” she said.
Akpınar made handball popular among her peers in her hometown, making boys, who initially loved football, her age love the sports too.
She also stressed that she was lucky to have the biggest of supporters from day one: Her parents.
“I have seven kids, five boys and two girls. Boys can play with balls, why can’t girls play? I have trust and faith in Merve. All parents should support and trust their daughters,” Ali Akpınar, the father, said.
“Those around us objected to handball at first. But we stood by her side,” Emine Akpınar, her mother, said proudly.
The mother urged all parents to put their daughters in education and ensure they go to schools. “I will break the taboos,” she said.
Hurriyet Daily News