Turkey’s ruling party fights its corner over wrestler joining bank board

Turkey’s ruling AK Party defended the appointment of a former wrestling champion to the board of a major state bank, saying those opposed to the move should doubt their love for the country.

Hamza Yerlikaya, who won several Olympic medals and world titles in the 1990s for Turkey, was appointed management board member at Turkey’s fourth-largest lender, Vakifbank, according to a stock exchange filing.

“Hamza Yerlikaya is an athlete who loves this homeland, and has raised our flag to the pole numerous times, making us proud. These banks also have sports-related services,” AK Party lawmaker Tamer Dagli told parliament, responding to criticism by opposition lawmakers late on Wednesday.

The former Greco-Roman wrestler also serves as a deputy sports minister and senior adviser to President Tayyip Erdogan.

“Whatever we do to all our athletes who love this homeland like Hamza Yerlikaya is too little. If you are uncomfortable with Hamza, you should doubt your love of homeland,” Dagli said.

Opposition parties had criticized the appointment and called on Yerlikaya to reject the position for lack of experience.

“We are very curious about what merit of Mr. Yerlikaya has brought him to the management of Vakifbank. He has no training in economics, and his only qualification is wrestling,” opposition lawmaker Garo Paylan told parliament on Wednesday.

“So what is it that Mr. Yerlikaya will do? Will he teach the board how to pin down a loan-seeking citizen? How to grip a non-governmental friendly company and slam it on the mat?”

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Ali Kucukgocmen and Nick Macfie