21 from Singapore's youth football academy team stranded in Turkey airport

The children's football from the F-17 Academy stranded at Antalya Airport en route to the Gothia Cup in Sweden on July 16, 2016.
The children's football from the F-17 Academy stranded at Antalya Airport en route to the Gothia Cup in Sweden on July 16, 2016.PHOTO: SIA HWEE MIAN
The F-17 Academy team at Changi Airport before flying off to Turkey for their transit flight.
The F-17 Academy team at Changi Airport before flying off to Turkey for their transit flight.PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY
The F-17 Academy team at Changi Airport before flying off to Turkey.
The F-17 Academy team at Changi Airport before flying off to Turkey.PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY

SINGAPORE - A Singapore children’s football team from Singapore’s F-17 Academy is stranded in Turkey’s Antalya Airport after its flight to Istanbul was diverted due to a coup attempt in the country.

The group of 21 were on their way to the Gothia Cup in Sweden, and were headed to Istanbul on Turkish Airline flight TK55 for a transit flight to Copenhagen in Denmark.

From Copenhagen, they were to take a train to Gothenburg in Sweden to represent Singapore for the football tournament which runs from Sunday till July 25.

There are two coaches, six parents and 13 children aged eight to 14 years old in the group. 

The group left Singapore at 10pm on Friday. They were briefly informed by the plane captain of the coup in Turkey.

Their plane was then diverted to the international airport in Antalya, which is in southern Turkey.

“No one seems to be attending to them there. And there are thousands of people there from the numerous flights that got redirected to Antalya,” said Mr Nabil Yusoff, the academy’s director. 

A parent with the group, Ms Sia Hwee Mian, told The Straits Times that they were safe but had very little information from the authorities.

There were no airport personnel there, and it was unclear if the airport was operational, she said.

They have been at the airport since about 3am (8am Singapore time).

“Everyone’s just waiting, long snaking queue at one cafe. Only a couple of cafes opened, the rest of the shops are closed,” she said in text messages.

“What’s frustrating is that there’s no information forthcoming and we have no idea what to do.”

Other parents were equally frustrated.

"There is no official or anyone here to give us any updates. Neither is there any official communication channel here like an electronic signage or message on TV. Only loads of people from different flights sitting around everywhere," said Ms Radhika Radhakrishnan.

"No one has said anything to us in the five hours we have been here. Who knows when we will be able to get out," said Ms Lee Suk Houn.

Passengers waiting at the crowded Antalya Airport which was closed after an attempted coup in Turkey. PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY

Mr Israel Louis Ismail, the father of two of the team members, is currently in Gothenburg waiting for the arrival of the team. He said that he hopes the team can make it for their first match on Monday (July 18).

"Safety is of course the first concern. But... am really hoping our team can catch a connecting flight in time for our first match... They've trained so hard for this tournament and are so brave right now in the midst of this coup."

The F-17 Academy team at Turkey's Antalya Airport. PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY


At about 1.30pm, Mr Nabil updated that the group was being moved from Terminal 2 of the airport to Terminal 1.

While the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul has reopened, the Antalya Airport remains closed, he said.
The team may have to stay overnight at the airport, he said. 

Children from a Singapore youth football team moving from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 of Antalya Airport. PHOTO: F-17 Academy

The F-17 Academy made an appeal for help to get the team to Gothenburg in Sweden to represent Singapore on Facebook.

“We plead for assistance from anyone who can help get our kids out of Turkey asap. Please help our kids get back en route to Gothenburg, Sweden to achieve their dream of representing Singapore in the Gothia World Youth Cup 2016,” it said.

The tournament is dubbed the youth World Cup and is said to be the largest tournament for children in any sport.

The team has been training for at least six months, and up to five days a week for the past 1 .5 months, Mr Nabil said. They were training hard as they were disappointed with the result last year, when they finished 32 out of 160 teams, he added.

“This year we plan to make history with our group of everyday Singaporean kids.” 

The Straits Times understands that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Singapore embassy in Ankara are in touch with the F-17 Academy team and are providing consular assistance to them.

Other Singaporeans in Turkey were concerned when they heard loud noises and saw fighter jets flying past their homes.

Consultant Geraldine Loh, 54, who is living in Istanbul, was at home watching a movie when she received a message from a fellow Singaporean that there were tanks on the Bosphorus Bridge. She is on a WhatsApp group with about 20 other Singaporeans living in Turkey, and they kept each other updated with details.

Unsure of what was happening, she switched between news channels and started piecing bits of information together. Some time later, she heard loud sounds outside her window.

"The fighter jets were flying very low and I had to close my windows as it was really loud," said Ms Loh, adding that she had received many messages from her friends in Singapore checking if she is fine. "After more jets flew past, I started to be a bit concerned. It was too close for comfort."

Yesterday morning, she went out to the local grocer around her neighbourhood to stock up on food and water. "I don't know whether this thing is over," she said.

Turkish expatriates living in Singapore said the coup came as a shock, and and strongly condemned it.

Turkish language teacher Neslihan Tosun, who has been living here for seven years, said: "I was never expecting this. When I woke up early this morning, I was very worried for my country's well-being.

"I called my family and friends to see whether they are fine," the 29-year-old added. "I hope everything will be settled peacefully as soon as possible."

Mr Gokhan Dorum, , who has been living in Singapore for more than 15 years and runs his own firm providing education and trade services, said the current situation in Turkey is not acceptable.

The Singapore Permanent Resident, who is also secretary general of the Singapore Turkey Business Association, hopes the instability in Turkey will not shake investors' trust in the country.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans are getting the jitters about travelling to Turkey after news of the latest unrest.

Travel agency Dynasty Travel, which does not have any customers in Turkey at the moment, said that following the attempted coup, it has received calls from concerned customers who have booked trips to the country later this year. 

The number of Singaporean travellers to Turkey has "declined tremendously" following a string of terror attacks there in the past year, said Dynasty's director of public relations and communications Alicia Seah. 

"The number of such travellers in the first half of 2016, compared to the first half of 2015, has dropped by more than half," she said.

The agency has two groups of about  30 people each due to travel to Turkey in September.

MFA said earlier that it is monitoring the situation in Turkey closely.

"Until the situation becomes clearer, we advise Singaporeans to avoid non-essential travel to Turkey for the time being," a spokesman said.

MFA advised Singaporeans in Turkey to "stay indoors, monitor the news closely and e-register with MFA".

"They should let their family and friends know that they are safe," it added.

Deputy Prime Minister said at a Yellow Ribbon event on Saturday that  he has woken up to turmoil all over the world for the past two days.

" The situation in Turkey is still very fluid... the events over the last two days displayed how important it is for us to look after our security and make sure that we can enjoy the peace and harmony that we've had for many more years to come," he said.

Those who require consular assistance can contact the Singapore Embassy in Ankara or the 24-hour MFA duty office at:

Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Ankara

Tel: + 90 530 066 7311

Email: singemb_ank@mfa.sg

MFA duty office

Tel: +65 6379 8800 / 8855

Email: mfa_duty_officer@mfa.gov.sg