By Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s national side are being investigated by European soccer body UEFA after players celebrated their goal in a 1-1 draw against world champions France with a military salute to soldiers fighting in northeast Syria.
UEFA said on Tuesday it was investigating “potential provocative political behaviour” by the players during the match in Paris on Monday and another Euro 2020 qualifier against Albania on Oct. 11.
Olivier Giroud scored for France in the 75th minute of the match before Kaan Ayhan equalized for Turkey six minutes later. His teammates then lined up in front of the away supporters and saluted.
Turkish Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu defended the team’s celebration, saying it was a double standard for UEFA to launch an investigation when it did not do the same for French forward Antoine Griezmann, who saluted President Emmanuel Macron.
“I would like to say that the global sports community will not be fooled by these efforts by those who try to carry their lack of success on the pitch to other places with some games at the table,” Kasapoglu was cited as saying by state media.
“Those who didn’t say a word about Griezmann’s army salute that day are trying to take another meaning out of our national footballers’ beautiful salute,” he said, calling on UEFA to “act with prudence”.
Turkey’s veteran coach Senol Gunes also defended the team’s action after the draw with France, saying it was a gesture of respect for the armed forces, rather than a political statement or agitation.
“It’s wrong to look for malicious intentions in the soldier’s salute. We are doing it to look out for our soldiers. We are not doing it so that our soldiers go and kill people,” Gunes told a post-match press conference.
“You’re always asking me about the salute, but it’s way above me. It’s Trump’s business, it’s Macron’s business,” he said, referring to the U.S. and French presidents. “They are the ones who rule the world, while I can barely rule the team.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, accused by critics of giving a de facto green light to the cross-border offensive, has called on Turkey to cease fire. France’s Emmanuel Macron has also urged Ankara to stop the military action.
Turkey lead Group H of the Euro 2020 qualifiers, ahead of France on goal difference.
On Monday, Turkish midfielder Cenk Sahin was released by German team St Pauli following his Instagram post supporting Turkey’s military incursion.
“Cenk Sahin has been released from his training and playing duties with immediate effect,” St Pauli said in a statement.
The Turkish Football Federation posted a tweet after the Albania game last week, which showed the players and coaching staff in the dressing room making the military salute.
In the tweet, the federation wrote that the team “dedicated their victory to our brave soldiers and fellow martyrs.”
(Additional reporting by Brian Homewood and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean, Catherine Evans)