UEFA suspends Turkey player Merih Demiral for 2 games for making nationalistic gesture at Euro 2024

BERLIN — UEFA suspended Turkey player Merih Demiral for two matches on Friday for making a controversial hand gesture at the European Championship, an incident that has led to a diplomatic row between Turkey and host nation Germany.

Turkey’s vice president, Cevdet Yilmaz, denounced the decision as unacceptable and called for it to be “corrected.”

“The excitement and beauty of football should not be overshadowed by political decisions,” Yilmaz said.

The ban rules Demiral out of his team’s quarterfinal against the Netherlands on Saturday, and the semifinal, should Turkey progress.

After scoring his second goal in Turkey’s round-of-16 win against Austria, Demiral made a sign with each hand that is used by Turkish nationalists and associated with the Turkish ultra-nationalist organization Ulku Ocaklari, which is more widely known as the Gray Wolves.

Demiral had said it was an innocent expression of national pride and that he was hoping he’d have “more opportunities to do the same gesture again.”

It was condemned by German interior minister Nancy Faeser and other German politicians, leading to a harsh rebuke from Turkish authorities and the summoning of the German ambassador.

UEFA said it banned Demiral “for failing to comply with the general principles of conduct, for violating the basic rules of decent conduct, for using sports events for manifestations of a non-sporting nature and for bringing the sport of football into disrepute.”

Speaking before the decision, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is due to attend Saturday’s game in Berlin, said the 26-year-old defender had merely expressed his “excitement” after scoring against Austria.

The Turkish soccer association had no immediate reaction to the ban, though Turkish media reports said the association would appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration of Sport.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling party, criticized UEFA’s ban as a “an extremely wrong decision.” He suggested that the governing body had bowed to the influence of “certain pressure groups.”

“UEFA’s decision has cast a shadow of political influence over football,” Celik wrote on the social media platform X.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the decision “has reinforced the view that there is an increase in the tendency to act with prejudice against foreigners in certain European countries.”

Demiral was previously one of 16 Turkey players reprimanded in 2019 for making military-style salutes at games at a time when the country was conducting a military offensive in Syria.

The Gray Wolves group was founded as the youth wing of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which is currently in an alliance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, the Justice and Development Party.

In the decades following its founding in the 1960s, the group was accused of in the involvement in politically motivated violence, mostly against leftist groups.


Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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