Istanbul clubs: Darussafaka's unique mission

Apr 06, 2017 by Print
Istanbul clubs: Darussafaka's unique mission

Many basketball fans around Europe might regard Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul as a relatively new force among the continent's elite, but in fact the Turkish club has a long history and heart-warming origins.

The team first tipped off more than a century ago as part the sports section of a school for orphans which was founded by the Darussafaka Association in 1863, when it became the first non-governmental educational organisation in the history of Turkey.

The school, which is still thriving today in the Maslak district on the European side of Istanbul, was set up to provide an education for boys who had lost their fathers and who had limited financial resources.

Sport was always an important part of the school's philosophy, and in 1914 – just a few years after basketball had been introduced to Turkey – a basketball club was formed, quickly becoming extremely popular among students.

Darussafaka, which means "Home of Affection" in Arabic, developed a strong enough team to join the recently launched Turkish professional competition in 1951, and a decade later succeeded in becoming champions of Turkey for the first time. A year after that, in 1962, the club retained its national title and also had its first foray into European competition by progressing as far as the Euroleague quarter-finals, where it lost against eventual champion Dinamo Tbilisi.

The next few decades saw Darussafaka fall from grace before returning to the big-time in the late 1990s, competing on the European stage against teams like FC Barcelona and Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in the Korac Cup and Saporta Cup. In 2003, Darussafaka participated in the first-ever EuroCup.

After another brief fallow period, the club's recent renaissance came with the assistance of a sponsorship agreement with Dogus Group, one of the largest corporations in Turkey. The team climbed back into the Turkish top flight by winning the second division in 2014, followed by a return to EuroLeague action the following year.

Throughout all of Darussafaka's ups and downs over the last few decades, one constant has always remained: the club still has strong links to the orphanage which created it, regularly drawing upon graduates from the school to bolster its playing roster.

That includes current 20 year-old player Dogus Ozdemiroglu, who is spending this season on loan at Yeşilgiresun Belediyespor, and former captain Gokhan Sunter, now a youth team coach, who were both students at the school throughout their childhood.

Whenever Darussafaka plays, it can draw upon the support and affection of the near 1,000 students, who now also include girls. The EuroLeague team still practices at the school's arena and the club's offices are there, so the students have regular contact with the stars who play under the Darussafaka name. So when it comes to retaining genuine links with local community, surely few clubs in the whole of the sporting world do it better than Darussafaka.