Envoy down with World Cup fever!

Serap Ataay 25.06.2010

THE lights have invariably been switched off late at the home of the Turkish ambassador to Malaysia since June 11.

It's not that Serap Ataay, who flew to Malaysia in December, has been taking work home (she does occasionally) from her Jalan U-Thant mission.Neither has she been regularly making after-hours calls to foreign ministry officials in Ankara (given the time difference) although she must have been working the phones at odd hours during the Freedom Flotilla crisis last month.

The simple truth is this: the 49-year-old political scientist-turned-envoy has contracted World Cup fever.

It is that strange once-in-four year affliction which requires one to switch on the television about 7pm and switch it off about 4.30am; generally eat television dinners; and, gravitate towards talk (even among strangers) about World Cup fixtures.The only known remedy is watching more matches from South Africa, besides catching up on sleep when not watching live matches or replays.

Serap has had a particularly bad strain of the virus which requires a liberal dose of football daily with commentaries on matches in the interim period.She has watched most of the matches since the opening thriller between South Africa and Mexico, missing some due to call of duty at diplomatic functions or other events requiring her presence.To me, the soft-spoken former consul-general in Constanza, Romania, is hardly the football fan type, coming across as a scholar who could be expected to end the day with a good book than being glued to the "beautiful game" on television.

The secondary school sprinter, with a love for volleyball in her teenage days, admits that the last 14 days have been "very interesting". "On those days when I miss matches, especially the 2.30am ones, which are really too late for me, I look out for the replays," says the Fenerbahce S.K. fan who keeps track of how her favourite club in Istanbul is doing.She also loves Galatasaray S.K. (their colours are displayed prominently in her office) besides Besiktas J.K, both top Istanbul clubs that have made their mark in the region, too. Her love affair with football began as she walked passed the field where Galatasaray trained on her way home from school. "I guess my love for football is as strong today as it was in my youth. I recently organised a six-aside tournament for Turkish undergraduates in Malaysia," adds the No. 1 football fan at the mission. Turkey, which did not make it to the World Cup finals this time, qualified in 1950 (they later withdrew), 1954 and 2002, when they did exceedingly well and were the toast of football-crazy Istanbul on their return with third placing after toppling South Korea. For just a few minutes during the interview, Serap joins the legion of football fans worldwide in critiquing the manner in which top teams have gone down in ignominy with minnows rising to the occasion.She concurs with me (wearing a huge grin) that this World Cup has been full of surprises that have rubbished earlier predictions of possible winners by football pundits.Then, just as quickly as when she broke out in smiles at the mention of the World Cup, Serap is back to being Turkey's top diplomat in Kuala Lumpur with facts and figures on politics, economics and people-to-people relations at her beck and call .The former deputy director-general for Africa and East Asia in her Foreign Ministry came to Malaysia at a crucial time, when political and economic issues involving Turkey and Malaysia are on the table.Since May 31, she has been tracking events unfolding internationally and in Malaysia, in the wake of the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the Freedom Flotilla that tried to take urgently-needed supplies to the people of Gaza.Serap says Turkey is working on the legal framework to enable action to be taken again

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