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Euro 2024: Turkey player investigated over goal celebration

July 3, 2024

Footballer Merih Demiral scored both goals against Austria that put Turkey into the Euro 2024 quarterfinals. UEFA has now opened a probe into a celebration gesture he made that is linked to a far-right Turkish group.

Turkey's Merih Demiral celebrates scoring his side's opening goal
The player's celebrations after his first goal were not the ones that caused controversyImage: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo/picture alliance

Euro 2024 tournament organizer UEFA on Wednesday said it was investigating Turkish national football player Merih Demiral for "inappropriate behavior" during his side's knockout game against Austria in Leipzig.

After scoring a goal on Tuesday evening in the knockout match, the 26-year-old defender made the so-called wolf salute — a symbol of Turkey's far-right "Gray Wolves" — with both hands.

Demiral put his side ahead less than a minute after the match began and scored a second just before the hour mark. After netting the second, he made the gesture — with index and little finger raised — associated with the violent ultra-nationalist organization.

What the player said

Demiral has defended his controversial celebration gesture saying it was merely an expression of national pride.

"The way I celebrated has something to do with my Turkish identity," said Demiral, when questioned at the post-match press conference. "That's why I made this gesture." 

Demiral, named player of the match, said he had seen people in the stadium who had also made this gesture. 

There was "no hidden message" behind it, said Demiral. 

"We are all Turks, I am very proud to be Turkish and that is the meaning of this gesture. I just wanted to demonstrate how happy and proud I am," said Demiral.

The player hoped there would be "even more opportunities to show this gesture."  The team face the Netherlands in Berlin on Saturday.

Why are people unhappy with the gesture?

Among the paramilitary Gray Wolves' prime targets are non-Turkish ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians. Members are said to be often involved in attacks and clashes with Kurdish and leftist activists.

The group was established in the late 1960s and became prominent amid political violence in the late 1970s. 

Ahead of the round of 16 match, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) had called on UEFA, European football's governing body, not to tolerate the wolf salute in stadiums. It said some Turkish fans displayed it in previous games.

"This happened repeatedly and was broadcast live on television," said STP Middle East representative Kamal Sido. "UEFA should clearly position itself against the display of right-wing extremist symbols and impose a stadium ban on the display of the wolf salute."

It is "understandable and welcome that the fans of the Turkish national team are celebrating their team's successes," Sido continued. 

Making the wolf salute has "nothing to do with peaceful and justified celebration and, above all, harms the majority of peaceful fans."

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser condemned Demiral's goal celebration and urged UEFA to take action.

"Symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums," she said.

"It's not acceptable to use the Euros as a platform for racism. We expect UEFA to look into the case and consider sanctions."

Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador to Ankara to protest Berlin's condemnation of Demiral. 

rc/sms (dpa, SID)