Borusan, BMW’s Turkey distributor, has allegedly cancelled a sponsorship agreement with Turkish women’s rally champion Burcu Çetinkaya on the grounds that the co-host of a TV program Çetinkaya hosts is a headscarved woman; however, the company on Wednesday ruled out claims that the cancellation was due to an anti-headscarf attitude.
Borusan drew widespread criticism in the social media for its alleged move; however, the company released a statement on Wednesday saying that it is out of the question for it to adopt a discriminative attitude against anyone due to their lifestyle or preferences.
According to a report in the Yeni Şafak daily on Wednesday, on Aug. 17 Borusan agreed in principle to give the champion rally driver 100,000 euros and the right to use two MINI Cooper Countryman ALL4. The sponsorship deal was meant to be valid for one year.
Three months after this deal, Çetinkaya began to host a TV program on automobiles on Kanal24 along with Merve Sena Kılıç, a headscarf-wearing woman who is also a reporter for the Yeni Şafak daily. In one of the programs, Çetinkaya test drove the MINI Cooper and assessed the automobile’s performance with Kılıç.
An interview with Çetinkaya and Kılıç published on Dec. 21 in a Hürriyet daily supplement featured photographs of Kılıç and Çetinkaya driving the MINI Cooper.
Çetinkaya received a warning from Borusan Holding MINI Brand Manager Hakan Bayülgen after her photos with Kılıç were printed in the Hürriyet’s supplement.
“We have seen your photos in the press with the MINI and a woman wearing a headscarf. This has created an image problem for us. Abroad [referring to BMW general headquarters] does not want this,” Bayülgen told Çetinkaya. He also told the woman that his company is disturbed by Çetinkaya’s “religious” image.
Several days after this warning, Borusan cancelled the sponsorship deal with Çetinkaya, citing economic problems.
In remarks that appeared in the Yeni Şafak daily on Wednesday, Bayülgen confirmed the course of the developments regarding the cancellation of Çetinkaya’s sponsorship deal; however, he denied that the cancellation was related to Kılıç’s use of a headscarf.
“Our attitude is never specifically against the use of headscarves. We would have acted the same way if there had been the use of a political emblem. This is an issue to keep the brand an equal distance from all and prevent it from being identified with any specific political view, party, logo, religious movement or other movements,” Bayülgen said. He claimed that the cancellation of the sponsorship deal with Çetinkaya was due to financial restrictions.
In addition, a message sent to Çetinkaya by Borusan on Dec. 24 said: “The company is going through hard times. 2012 will be a tough year. When compared to the previous year, we need to cut down the sales budget. So, there will not be any increase in the 2012 sales budget,” adding that there will be no sponsorship deal with the famous driver.
Surprised by Borusan’s reaction, Kılıç said she has difficulty in understanding the company’s concerns about its image.
“This company does not care about its image when headscarf-wearing women buy automobiles from them, but they voice such concerns when a headscarf-wearing woman tests their automobile on a TV program,” she said.
Kılıç also added that some of her headscarf-wearing friends decided to buy a MINI Cooper after their program, but she said if the use of headscarves is an obstacle to company prestige, such an understanding is a reason for her to lose confidence in the company.
In its Wednesday statement, Borusan said a sponsorship deal was not officially made with Çetinkaya, so it is not possible to talk about a cancellation. Borusan cited financial concerns for not going ahead with a sponsorship deal with the famous rally driver.
The company also said remarks by Bayülgen “that have been inappropriate” do not reflect the views of either Borusan Automotive or BMW or the Borusan Group.
“Borusan has never had a discriminatory stance or practice on the basis of religion, language, belief or ethnicity, and it will never have such a stance or attitude,” added Borusan’s statement.
Among the critics of Borusan on Wednesday was Radikal daily columnist Cüneyt Özdemir who announced that he would sell his MINI Cooper in protest of Borusan’s move.
On his Twitter account, Özdemir wrote: “Damn your automobiles’ prestige if you don’t want to see a headscarf-wearing woman in one of your cars. We have a MINI Cooper; I am selling it immediately, immediately.”