The Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) decision to initiate a disciplinary investigation into a number of footballers of the Turkish national team, on the grounds that the “soldier salute” they made during goal celebrations while playing against Albania and France may have been intended for “political provocation,” has revealed the double standards of European football’s governing body.
The investigation launched by the UEFA, the umbrella organization of European football, is considered by many as a purely political move. Initially, after the Albania game, it was rumored that the UEFA was going to launch a probe, but Philip Townsend, UEFA’s managing director of communications, said that UEFA had no comments to make about the game in response to a written question submitted by Anadolu Agency. So, one wonders, what particular motivation did UEFA have to launch an investigation after the France game, even though the Turkish footballers had made the same soldier salute while celebrating their goal in the previous game as well?
First of all, we need to emphasize that the investigation initiated by UEFA does not have any legal basis. What drives us to this conclusion is the fact that UEFA, in a statement it made on its official website, says that “an Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has been appointed to initiate disciplinary investigations,” while it provides no applicable article that would constitute a basis for an investigation. The usual UEFA practice in such circumstances is to openly state the relevant disciplinary article that forms the basis of its disciplinary referrals. What is therefore conspicuous in this case is the absence of a statement regarding a violation of any disciplinary article, which should have accompanied the investigation opened against our national team.
The investigation opened by UEFA under such circumstances lead us to question the real motives behind the move. The most basic answer we are presently able to come up with is that the investigation has a political basis. Operation Peace Spring, which Turkey has launched on the basis of its legitimate right to self-defense arising from Article 51 of the UN Charter and on the basis of UN Security Council’s provisions that pertain to combating terrorism, has triggered an extensive smear campaign across European political circles, which in return seems to have influenced UEFA’s decision.
A statement French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu made on her Twitter account after the game between Turkey and France casts further doubts on UEFA’s decision in that she called on UEFA — before the announcement on its website — to launch an investigation. She claimed in her tweet that the Turkish footballers’ military salute while celebrating the goal scored by Kaan Ayhan to express their support to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring was “contrary to the spirit of sports” while also inviting UEFA to take action against the Turkish national team because of this behavior.
However, UEFA seems to have been primarily affected by all the provocative publications in the European media, most of which called the military salute of the Turkish footballers a “scandal”, thereby creating political pressure on UEFA.
In the statement, described by many as a scandal, UEFA announced that an investigation was underway regarding the military salute made by Turkish footballers during the games against Albania and France, whereas two days before the same organization had stated, through an official, that they had no comment to make on the situation.
There are many past examples of goal celebrations in the form of the typical military salute from the premier leagues of Spain (La Liga), England, and Germany (Bundesliga), where the star footballers of world-famous teams expressed their joy after scoring a goal by making the soldier salute to their fans or to each other.
These goal celebrations were broadcast by the TV channels of those countries over and over again, while photos capturing those moments accompanied the news articles written on the “military-style” goal celebrations.
While absolutely no issues were taken with these goal celebrations in the European media at the time, the French TV broadcasting the game censored the goal celebration of the Turkish footballers, so the TV spectators could not see it.
Griezmann free to make soldier salute
In July 2018, at the end of the World Cup in Russia, star football player Antoine Griezmann made a similar military salute to express his joy.
During the cup ceremony after France beat Croatia 4-2, French star Griezmann made the soldier salute again, this time to French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in attendance next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in addition to many other heads of state. Yet Griezmann’s salute was not considered as a political message or an attempt of a political provocation.
And at the championship ceremony held at the Elysee Palace, he repeated his military salute to Macron, which was interpreted by the European media as “a nice gesture” made to the head of a state.
Also in the World Cup in Russia, South Korea and Germany, teams of Group F, played against each other in the city of Kazan. South Korean footballer Hong Chul made the soldier salute when his country’s national anthem was being played.
Ronaldo, Marcelo, Mandzukic, Adebayor …
It should be very clear by far that making the soldier salute as a goal celebration is not something done by Turkish players alone.
Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, who has won many awards throughout his career and is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, also made the soldier salute some years ago to celebrate a goal with his Brazilian teammate Marcelo in a Real Madrid game.
Another example is Croatian footballer Mario Mandzukic, who celebrated a goal by making the exact same salute when he was playing for the German Bayern Munich.
In the UEFA Champions League quarter-final match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich in 2009, Thierry Henry, playing for Barcelona at that time, and his Cameroonian teammate Samuel Eto’o made the soldier salute to each other.
Emmanuel Adebayor, one of the most important figures of African football, is also among the players who gave the military salute to celebrate a goal. He did that when playing for Tottenham after scoring a goal against Manchester United. Adebayor’s salute came at a time when his country Togo was going through political turmoil.
PKK symbols allowed in stadiums
UEFA’s double standards are not limited to its decision to probe the Turkish players with regard to the salute they made.
When the Turkish team Galatasaray were playing against the Swedish Ostersunds, two people entered the pitch and unfurled a poster of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan.
Three years ago, during a game between Turkish Osmanlispor and Swiss FC Zurich in the latter’s hometown, a number of spectators unfurled symbols of the PKK as well as Ocalan posters. The security personnel remained silent in the face of this scandal.
In addition, in many games played by Turkish teams in European cups, supporters of the terrorist PKK entered the pitch and interrupted the games.
However, unlike the UEFA decision on Turkey, all these incidents were let off with mere admonitions and small fines.
(Translated by Omer Colakoglu)
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