Sports, Euro 2024, Demiral, UEFA, Gray Wolves

UEFA: Demiral could be suspended from the semifinals over "Grey Wolves" salute

Turkey is outraged: Demiral might not play in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands.

Merih Demiral seen during UEFA Euro 2024 game between national teams of Turkey and Portugal (Photo: Shutterstock / Maciej Rogowski Photo)

UEFA's disciplinary committee is set to decide the fate of Turkish national team star Merih Demiral, who celebrated their quarterfinal advancement with a controversial salute linked to the extremist group "The Grey Wolves." Demiral, who scored twice in Turkey's 2-1 win over Austria in the round of 16, sparked a huge uproar with his celebration.

So, who are the "Grey Wolves"?

"The Grey Wolves" is the youth and paramilitary wing of Turkey's far-right National Movement Party. It's considered a terrorist organization, which supports the idea of a Turkish political entity stretching from the Balkans to China and holds a racist ideology against Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. The organization translated Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" into Turkish and distributed it, along with anti-Semitic theories like "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Last year, The Grey Wolves even went so far as to issue a threat against the Israeli delegation to the Paris 2024 Olympics, showing images from the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 11 murdered Israelis, ending with the word "Paris."

Turkey erupts:

Following UEFA's announcement of an investigation into Demiral's actions, which could lead to his suspension from the quarterfinal match against the Netherlands, Turkey erupted in outrage. Politicians and public figures have banded together in a high-profile campaign to prevent any severe punishment for Demiral.

"The investigation against Demiral is unacceptable," stated the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Not everyone who celebrates with this gesture is a right-wing extremist. The 'Grey Wolves' are not even banned in Germany, and the authorities' response is rooted in xenophobia. We condemn this political decision. The gesture is a legitimate and natural way to celebrate a sporting event, and Demiral had no intention of offending anyone."

Adding to the political pressure, Turkey sent an official complaint to the German ambassador. Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc wrote, "Merih Demiral, you are our pride, we will always support you." The Sports Minister also posted support for Demiral, and the leader of the far-right "MHP" party said, "It seems Demiral's celebration disturbed certain sick circles in Europe, and now everyone is looking to corner him. The attempt to use football to create provocations and intimidate us will not work for the Germans."

An article even compared Demiral's case to that of Sagiv Yehezkel, who was expelled from Turkey after celebrating a goal with a message supporting hostages. "UEFA's hypocrisy is disgusting. They're ready to punish Demiral, but did they act against Sagiv Yehezkel? Of course not," it read.

Demiral responds:

Demiral said, "My celebration is about my Turkish identity, there's no 'hidden message' behind it. I saw other people celebrating like this in the stands. I'm proud to be Turkish, and that's what I expressed."

It's predicted that Demiral will likely face a fine rather than suspension. This follows UEFA's precedent with Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, who celebrated at the 2018 World Cup against Serbia with a gesture symbolizing the Albanian flag. Both were fined €20,000 but not suspended.

* Walla Sport contributed to this article.

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