Turkey summons German ambassador to protest criticism of Demiral's goal celebration at Euro 2024

LEIPZIG, Germany — A controversial gesture made by Turkey player Merih Demiral at soccer’s European Championship has ignited a diplomatic brouhaha between the country and host nation Germany.

Turkey summoned the German ambassador on Wednesday to protest German interior minister Nancy Faeser’s condemnation of Demiral’s goal celebration the night before, when the player displayed a hand sign associated with an ultra-nationalist group.

Demiral scored both goals Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Austria to earn Turkey’s 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.

Faeser urged UEFA to punish the player for making the gesture.

“The symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums. Using the soccer European Championship as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable,” Faeser said on X.

Federal minister Cem Özdemir, a German politician of Turkish descent, said Demiral’s gesture is “extreme right” and “stands for terror, fascism.”

UEFA said it was investigating Demiral’s “alleged inappropriate behavior.” The soccer body did not outline when the case might conclude. Turkey’s next game is against the Netherlands in Berlin on Saturday.

The spokesman for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party, Omer Celik, said Faeser’s comments and UEFA’s investigation are “unacceptable.”

“It would be more appropriate for those looking for racism and fascism to focus on the recent election results in different European countries,” Celik wrote on X.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the investigation as a politically motivated reaction “to the use of a historical and cultural symbol” during the goal celebration.

A ministry statement said the gesture is not banned in Germany and noted that the German authority which safeguards the constitution had ruled in September 2023 that not everyone making the Gray Wolf sign could be classified as a far-right extremist.

“We consider that the reactions shown by the German authorities toward Mr. Demiral themselves contain xenophobia,” the ministry said.

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

The player 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.”

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 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.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli on Wednesday condemned UEFA’s investigation into Demiral’s gesture as “biased and wrong.”

“The Gray Wolf sign made by our son, Merih, after netting the ball is the Turkish nation’s message to the world,” Bahceli wrote on X. The nationalist leader urged calm, saying the Turkish team’s “struggle on the field should not go to waste.”

Germany’s federal domestic agency monitors the Gray Wolves group’s activities. Authorities estimate it has around 12,100 members in the country.

The group has been banned in France, while Austria has banned the use of the Gray Wolf salute.


AP newsperson Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey, and AP sports writer James Ellingworth contributed from Düsseldorf, Germany.


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

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