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UEFA investigates Turkey's Merih Demiral for ultra-nationalist salute during goal celebration

Turkey's Merih Demiral celebrates after scoring his second goal during a round of 16 match between Austria and Turkey at the Euro 2024 tournament in Leipzig, 2 July 2024
Turkey's Merih Demiral celebrates after scoring his second goal during a round of 16 match between Austria and Turkey at the Euro 2024 tournament in Leipzig, 2 July 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
Copyright AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
By Aleksandar Brezar
Published on Updated
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After scoring his second goal against Austria, Demiral made a hand signal commonly used by Turkey's extremist Grey Wolves group.

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UEFA has opened an investigation into Turkish football player Merih Demiral after he celebrated a goal at Euro 2024 on Tuesday night with a hand gesture commonly associated with an ultra-nationalist group.

Demiral, who is being investigated for "alleged inappropriate behaviour", scored both goals in a dramatic 2-1 win over Austria to earn a place in the quarterfinals.

After the second goal, he made a salute with each hand associated with the Turkish ultra-nationalist organisation Ülkü Ocakları, or Grey Wolves.

In a post-match interview on Tuesday, Demiral said the celebration made him "very proud".

“I am very proud because I am Turkish, so after the goal, I felt strongly (about it), and I wanted to do it, and I am very happy that I did it,” he said. 

Demiral also shared the image of the celebration on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser reacted to the incident in a post on X, stating that "the symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums."

"Using the European Football Championship as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable," Faeser said.

A history of violence

The Grey Wolves were founded as the youth wing of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is currently allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party. MHP's leader, Devlet Bahçeli, commonly uses the same salute in party rallies.

After its founding in the 1960s, the group was accused of involvement in politically motivated violence, mostly against leftist groups and minorities such as Kurds and Armenians, resulting in it being described as a racist and neo-fascist paramilitary organisation.

The Grey Wolves group has been banned in France, while Austria has banned the use of the three-finger salute meant to resemble a wolf's head, which is widely used by ultra-nationalists in Turkey.

Gray Wolves, the supporters of Turkey's opposition Nationalist Action Party, MHP, cheer MHP leader Devlet Bahceli as he addresses an election rally in Istanbul, 31 May 2015
Gray Wolves, the supporters of Turkey's opposition Nationalist Action Party, MHP, cheer MHP leader Devlet Bahceli as he addresses an election rally in Istanbul, 31 May 2015Emrah Gurel/AP

In May 2021, the European Parliament called on EU member states to designate the Grey Wolves a terrorist group.

Its members deny all allegations of political extremism and claim it to be a cultural and educational foundation.

MHP's Bahçeli blasted UEFA's investigation on Wednesday, stating on X that Demiral's salute "stirred many sick circles" in Turkey and abroad.

"The Grey Wolves sign made by our son Merih after piercing the net is the Turkish nation's message to the world."

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"UEFA launching an investigation in this context is a purposeful next step in a chain of provocations that have gained dangerous ground in recent days," he added.

A centre-back who plies his trade in Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli, Demiral was previously one of 16 Turkish players reprimanded in 2019 for making military-style salutes at games while the country was conducting a military offensive in Syria.

UEFA said on Wednesday that an inspector has been appointed to probe into Demiral's actions. It didn't state when the case might conclude or what the consequences might be.

According to its rulebook, however, Demiral might face a fine or an outright match ban.

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Turkey's next game is against the Netherlands in Berlin on Saturday.

Additional sources • AP

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