UEFA investigates Turkey player Merih Demiral for celebrating a goal with a nationalist gesture

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) — UEFA has launched an investigation into Turkey soccer player Merih Demiral’s “alleged inappropriate behavior” after he celebrated a goal at Euro 2024 by displaying a hand sign associated with an ultra-nationalist group.

Demiral scored both goals Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Austria to earn a place in the quarterfinals.

After scoring the second goal he 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.

After the game, Demiral said it was an innocent expression of his national pride and that there was “no hidden message or anything of the sort.”

He said he had the celebration in mind before scoring.

“It has to do with this Turkish identity, because I’m very proud to be a Turk. And I felt that to the fullest after the second goal. So that’s how I ended up doing that gesture. I’m very happy that I did that,” Demiral said. “I saw people in the stadium who were doing that sign. So that reminded me that I also had that in mind.”

Later, he was asked again about the gesture.

“How can I explain this?” he replied. “Of course we’re all Turkish. We’re all Turks in Turkey. We’re very proud. I’m very proud as a person to be a Turk. So that’s what I did. That was the meaning of the gesture. It’s quite normal.”

Demiral said he hoped he’d get “more opportunities to do the same gesture again.”

UEFA confirmed Wednesday that it had appointed an inspector to investigate Demiral. It didn’t outline when the case might conclude. Turkey’s next game is against the Netherlands in Berlin on Saturday.

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 were founded as the youth wing of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which is currently in an alliance with 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 involvement in politically motivated violence, mostly against leftist groups.

The Gray Wolves group has been banned in France, while Austria has banned the use of the Gray Wolf salute, which is widely used by nationalists in Turkey.


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

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