Cuneyt Çakır and his assistants were the only representatives of Turkish football at this summer's World Cup in Brazil. He not only officiated the Brazil-Mexico and Algeria-Russia group matches, but he was also tasked with a semi-final encounter between Argentina and the Netherlands. In the topflight tournament, which the Turkish national football team missed as a result of their poor performance in the qualifiers, Çakır became one of the reasons for the football-crazed nation to follow the event. Çakır became the first Turkish referee to undertake duties for a World Cup tournament in 40 years. Bahattin Duran and Tarık Ongun were also in Brazil to assist Çakır at the matches.
“All were in their places. Fifteen seconds before the match started, the delegate of the match raised his hand. Another sign followed with 10 seconds left. When he indicated the final 10 seconds, all I could think was, ‘God help us. All of Turkey is behind us. Reward us for our hard work,'” Çakır told Gençlik Spor magazine of Turkey's Youth and Sports Ministry, referring to his thoughts leading into the semi-final match. After the match, the first thing he did was call his family. During the match, the Turkish official did an excellent work and received high praise. The successful referee received unforgettable messages from thousands of people and experienced “incredible feelings” during the 45 days of World Cup. He was also thrilled to see Turkish flags in the stands of the stadiums where he officiated games. All these things made Çakır feel a great sense of responsibility toward his country, but he was able to put the feelings aside after he blew the whistle to start the games. The 37-year-old never expected he would be the one to officiate the final. “It would be wrong to have expected to referee [the final match]. We always wanted to give our best in the next match. Our goal was to have a good first [World Cup] match and get a second match. After that, we knew the rest would come,” he said, and added, “It will be a good reference for the European Football Championship and the Champions League events to come.” Now Çakır hopes to continue working at high-level football tournaments and be the top official in the finals of these events. The next biggest competition is the Euro 2016. Çakır has his eyes on taking part in the championship match.Çakır's achievements do not come as a surprise. He has been in the world of football since the age of 10. He started out as a football player for the youth teams of Kartalspor. He was injured at 17 and had to give up playing. Çakır was also lucky, though. His father, Serdar Çakır, who is a former football referee and former vice chairman of Turkey's Central Referee Board (MHK), was a major motivator for him. Çakır's father made him love football and refereeing. “I grew up as a kid who loved football and was in love with refereeing. Ever since I could remember I've been living with football. Football is a love, a passion for me,” Çakır said. He noted that he had a chance to meet personalities from the Turkish football world. “Before I was a referee, I met many special people thanks to my father. My mother was also influential in my decision (to become a referee). When I was hesitating about whether to play football or to focus on refereeing, my mom said: ‘You should definitely be a referee. I can see you at the World Cup.'” The high-achieving referee is also confident that he would have made a good player if he had pursued it. “I won't be humble about it. I can comfortably say this because of the matches we now play with the former footballers. They know this very well too,” Çakır, who plays as a forward, said. Football, though his greatest passion, is not Çakır's only love. He loves basketball and table tennis and is a die-hard fan of the NBA.
Rising fame has not put Çakır under too much pressure, because he finds the game entertaining. “At the end of the day, it is a sport, and everybody should see it that way. If you feel pressure, it affects your success. Once you prepare thoroughly for the matches, you have enough confidence and don't feel pressure.” Comparing the reactions he gets in domestic and international matches, the referee said Turks supported him regardless of his little mistakes and wanted him to succeed at the international level. At the same time, they take sides in domestic games. “Then they see any of our actions as wrongdoing. This makes all the difference… Football is a game of mistakes. It is not a solution to feel upset about the mistakes. What matters is to learn and avoid repeating the same mistake.” But for him, the names of the teams do not make any difference when it comes to taking it seriously and making preparations for them. “We always say we want respect as referees. If you want respect, then you should first be respectful. Every match you take might be someone's most important one.”
Çakır has worked hard to attain what he has. He speaks English and now plans to learn French and Russian for the tournaments. “The next European Football Championship is in France, and the next World Cup is in Russia. I have already started working on [those languages],” he said. He noted that he is still learning a lot and always plans to move forward. “You can do this job until the age of 45. If God gives me health and no injuries, I'll try to learn more, as long as I can do this job. For example, at the most recent World Cup, the world's best referees were there, but no one called himself the best. Everybody was trying to learn something from one another,” he said. The 37-year-old watches about 15 matches every week to stay mentally fit and exercises to stay physically fit. The workouts were determined by FIFA over the past two years in preparation for the World Cup. From this season on, he will follow a UEFA program of exercise for the upcoming Euro 2016.
Even after his retirement, Çakır does not plan to leave football. Although he does not want to think about his retirement, he would like to be a trainer for future referees and pass his knowledge on them. “At the moment, all I'm concentrated on is refereeing. I have seven seasons ahead,” he said. Çakır recommends younger referees to work hard: Be physically fit and follow all the developments in the field. “I think the most important thing is to watch matches, not only the players but the referee as well.” To make a living, Çakır owns an insurance agency. But football comes first for him. “I am a graduate of management from Kocaeli University. I have had an insurance agency for 12 years. I don't have much chance to go to the office but I respect and love my profession. With what time is left after refereeing, I am definitely there. I have a partner and he takes care of everything,” Çakır said of his other job.