Turkish player's far-right goal celebration sparks controversy in Euro 2024

European soccer's governing body, UEFA, has launched an investigation into a "wolf salute" goal celebration by Turkish center back Merih Demiral. Germany criticized the gesture for its far-right associations, prompting a sharp response from Ankara.

Reuters & Duvar English

European soccer's governing body UEFA opened an investigation on July 3 into a "wolf salute" goal celebration by Turkey center back Merih Demiral which Germany condemned as racist due to its far right associations, prompting a rebuke from Ankara.

The 26-year-old defender mimicked the shape of a wolf's head with his fingers after his second goal in Turkey's stunning 2-1 win over Austria in the last-16 of Euro 2024.

The gesture is linked to the "Grey Wolves", an ultra-nationalist youth branch of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"The symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums," Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a post on X. "Using the European Football Championship as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable."

Established in the 1960s, the "Grey Wolves" were involved in political violence between leftists and nationalists that killed some 5,000 people around the time of a 1980 coup.

The group is outlawed in France and its symbol is banned in Austria. The "Grey Wolves" are also under surveillance in Germany, Faeser added.

UEFA said it would look into "the alleged inappropriate behavior" of Demiral.

It has been cracking down on misconduct during the tournament, banning Albania's Mirlind Daku for two games after he led fans in offensive chants, and investigating England's Jude Bellingham for a crotch-grabbing gesture.

Turkey's foreign ministry said UEFA's probe was unacceptable and that German authorities' approach to Demiral "involved xenophobia".

"We condemn the politically-motivated reactions to the use of a historical and cultural symbol, in a way that does not target anyone, during the celebrations of joy at a sporting event," it said.

The ministry also summoned Germany's ambassador to Ankara over the dispute, a Turkish diplomatic source said.

Demiral: 'I am very happy to have done that'

Elated by his man-of-the-match performance, Demiral told reporters he had planned the gesture.

"I had a celebration in mind about being Turkish. I did that (gesture). I am very proud to be a Turk, I felt that to my bones after scoring the goal, that is why I wanted to do something like that," he said after the match.

"I am very happy to have done that, all the fans are proud of us. I saw people in the audience doing that. I wanted to do it after seeing them."

The German Israeli Society, which described the "Grey Wolves" as a threat to Jews as well as Armenians, Greeks and Kurds, called on German authorities to ban the group.

"The ideological superiority of these fascist nationalists jeopardizes public safety," its president Volker Beck said in a statement.

In Turkey, the ruling AKP and its MHP ally both defended Demiral and said the backlash was out of proportion.

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik said those worried about racism and fascism should focus on recent elections around the continent where the far right has been on the rise.

"The Grey Wolf sign made by our son Merih after hitting the net is the Turkish nation's message to the world, and UEFA's launch of an investigation in this context is both ill-intentioned and part of a chain of provocations that have gained dangerous ground in recent days," added MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli.

The incident coincided with the start of a trial in Turkey of 22 people over the murder of former "Grey Wolves" leader Sinan Ateş, who was gunned down in Ankara in late 2022.

The match also coincided with the 31st anniversary of the Sivas Massacre, where Islamist and ultra-nationalist groups set fire to the Madımak Hotel in the central Sivas province, killing 35 people.

The mob outside the Madımak Hotel throws the exact hand gesture affiliated with the Gray Wolves before burning 35 intellectuals to death.