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UEFA suspends Turkey player Demiral for 2 games for making nationalistic gesture at Euro 2024

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BERLIN (AP) — UEFA’s two-game ban of Turkey player Merih Demiral on Friday for a controversial hand gesture at the European Championship, an incident that led to a diplomatic row between Turkey and host nation Germany.

The ban rules Demiral out of the quarterfinal against the Netherlands on Saturday, and a semifinal should Turkey progress.

The Turkish Football Federation joined Turkish government officials in denouncing the suspension but said it can’t appeal against it because it’s under the three-game threshold. The leader of Turkey’s nationalist party called on the team to boycott Saturday’s game and return home unless UEFA’s “shameful decision” is reversed.

After scoring his second goal in Turkey’s round-of-16 win over Austria on Tuesday, Demiral 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.

“We consider it unfair this ban, because that was not a political gesture. It was interpreted as such, but it was just something that was not properly understood,” Turkey coach Vincenzo Montella said.

“But this will not put a brake on Turkish pride. Actually, we will be more passionate, more proud. We want to be make the country proud. And I’m sure we will all be highly motivated. And this goes for the fans as well.”

Demiral had said it was an innocent expression of national pride and that he was hoping he’d have “more opportunities to do the same gesture again.”

But it was condemned as “racism” by German interior minister Nancy Faeser, and Cem Özdemir, a German politician of Turkish descent, said the gesture “stands for terror, fascism.”

Their comments led to a harsh rebuke from Turkish authorities and the summoning of the German ambassador on Wednesday.

UEFA said it banned Demiral “for failing to comply with the general principles of conduct, for violating the basic rules of decent conduct, for using sports events for manifestations of a non-sporting nature and for bringing the sport of football into disrepute.”

Speaking before the decision, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who changed plans to visit Azerbaijan so he can attend Saturday’s quarterfinal, said the 26-year-old defender merely expressed his “excitement” after his second goal.

Federation president Mehmet Buyukeksi denounced the decision as being politically motivated and accused UEFA of “double standards.”

“When compared to the fines and suspended penalties for much more serious offenses, including racist behavior in the stands, this two-match ban is hugely disproportionate,” Hurriyet newspaper quoted Buyukeksi as saying.

Buyukeksi denied Turkish media reports that his federation would take the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, saying the appeals channel was closed for less than three-match suspensions.

“Our right to appeal has been taken away from us with the two-match penalty,” he said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the decision “has reinforced the view that there is an increase in the tendency to act with prejudice against foreigners in certain European countries.”

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 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 said if UEFA’s “shameful decision” is not reversed, the team should skip Saturday’s game.

“At this stage, it is a moral and national expectation that our national football team does not play in the Netherlands match and in this way, displays its democratic protest,” he said.

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AP writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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

By CIARÁN FAHEY
AP Sports Writer

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