UEFA hands Turkish footballer Demiral two-match ban for nationalist 'wolf salute'

The UEFA has suspended Turkish national team player Merih Demiral for two games for throwing the nationalist "wolf salute" sign while celebrating his goal during the Austria match. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's expected participation has fueled tensions ahead of the quarter-final match in Berlin.

Reuters & Gazete Duvar

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) on July 5 handed a two-match ban to Turkish football player Merih Demiral for his politically charged "wolf" celebration.

Centre-back Demiral, 26, will now miss Turkey's quarter-final on July 6 against the Netherlands, prompting outrage and a call by his government for the punishment to be rescinded.

Demiral, 26, mimicked the shape of a wolf's head with his fingers after his second goal in Turkey's 2-1 win over Austria, which carried the team into the quarter-finals. The symbol is linked to Turkey's far-right "Grey Wolves" group and was condemned as racist by Germany.

UEFA said Demiral was punished "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".

Demiral said he had planned the gesture and was proud of it as an expression of patriotism. Turkey's football association plans to appeal the decision, Turkish media said.

"The beauty and excitement of football should not be overshadowed by political decisions," said Turkey's Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz on X, urging an overturning of the ban.

AKP's Vice Chair and Spokesperson Ömer Çelik also criticized the ban on social media, finding it "entirely wrongful." The decision was taken because of the political pressure of "certain groups," held Çelik.

The ban was also criticized by the Turkish main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Party chair Özgür Özel said that the decision was "unrighteous and politically motivated," hoping that it would be appealed.

Amid the furor over Demiral's gesture, Turkey's President Tayyip Erdoğan is planning to attend his nation's game in Berlin.

Erdoğan's arrival is expected to intensify tensions during the match in Berlin, home to over 200,000 people of Turkish descent, leading to criticisms from German politicians and increased precautions by law enforcement. 

The Turkish Ultras, a group of Turkish football fans, called on all supporters to make the Grey Wolves salute during the playing of the Turkish national anthem, according to reporting by the online news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish.

Their statement read, "We invite all our fans in the stands to make the Grey Wolves salute while the national anthem is played, to show that the Grey Wolves salute is not 'racism' but the 'national symbol of Turkishness.' We invite all citizens, with or without tickets, to join the march and fill the streets before the match."

The Berlin police department is on high alert ahead of the match. Berlin Police Union spokesperson Benjamin Jendro told the Watson news portal that tens of thousands of Dutch and hundreds of thousands of Turkish fans were expected for the quarter-final, which he described as an "unprecedented high-risk match."

Michael Roth, chair of the Bundestag Foreign Relations Committee from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), stated that EURO 2024 had been a "festival of mutual understanding and a great success" until now.

He added, "Unfortunately, isolated nationalist incidents among the fans in the stands and the recent atmosphere within the Turkish national team are clouding the environment."

Roth emphasized that politicians should take action and play a role in supporting mutual understanding among people. He said, "President Erdoğan, is doing the exact opposite by adding fuel to the nationalist fire. First, he summons the German ambassador, and now he's attending the match."

Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesperson for the main opposition Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) parliamentary group, commented on Erdoğan's visit, saying, "The legitimate criticism by Germans of a foolish act by a Turkish national footballer is not a good reason for Erdoğan to come to Germany. Erdoğan should refrain from promoting Turkish nationalism."

The "Grey Wolves", whose symbol Demiral evoked, is an ultra-nationalist youth branch of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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. It is also under surveillance in Germany.