The two-match ban handed by UEFA to Turkish national team football player Merih Demiral over his celebratory gesture after the Euro 2024 last 16 game with Austria indicates double standards of the football body, a sports lawyer said Friday.

After winning 2-1 against Austria, Demiral celebrated by forming the shape of a wolf’s head with his fingers, known as the grey wolf sign in Turkish culture.

Urged by German officials, the European football’s governing body launched an investigation and later handed the two-match ban.

The punishment is “clearly excessive, unjust, and beyond legal boundaries,” Anıl Dinçer, who heads the legal department of Turkish football club Samsunspor, told Anadolu Agency (AA) in an exclusive interview.

Dinçer said the UEFA decision does not align with legal sanctions and precedents, emphasizing that there should not be such a penalty on a footballer celebrating a symbol of national and spiritual significance.

He argued there were similar instances during other matches, but most did not even elicit an investigation, let alone punishment, highlighting an anti-Turkish stance by European officials.

“Swiss footballer Xherdan Shaqiri made the eagle gesture during a match against Serbia, while Dutch footballer Wout Weghorst made a lion’s paw gesture after scoring a goal. Even more egregious, Dusan Tadic, who plays in our country [in Super Lig], made the Chetnik salute during Serbia’s match against Montenegro.

“There’s no need to explain what that already is; these incidents weren’t even investigated. Shaqiri just received a fine for making the eagle gesture. Earlier, our footballers were also fined during national team games. They were fined for giving the soldier salute, showing solidarity and struggle in Türkiye. Frankly, this decision shocked me,” Dinçer said.

He also pointed to Jude Bellingham’s offensive gesture in the EURO match against Slovakia, for which he received a suspended one-match ban and fined €30,000 ($32,470).

He said no lawyer or disciplinary committee could justify this decision as fair or lawful. “First and foremost, there must be consistency in law. Decisions must align with each other. In the previous instances I’ve mentioned, there wasn’t even an investigation or a decision taken. Let’s set all that aside; even the British themselves would admit that Bellingham should receive a harsher punishment than Merih.”

“Any conscientious person who trusts in justice, equality, and pursuing fairness will understand that there are double standards, discrimination, and ill-intent behind this decision, which is politically motivated against Türkiye,” the lawyer said.

“Unfortunately, there is a sensitive issue in Europe, especially concerning discrimination and racism, which UEFA is aware of. However, Türkiye is the country facing discrimination and double standards here. UEFA has made a discriminatory decision against Türkiye.”

Bellingham decision will serve as good precedent’

Dinçer, who advises Besiktas football club and has also worked with legal firms in the UK, said Ankara continues its efforts to have the ban lifted and has decided to apply to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) submitted its defense for Demiral to UEFA, arguing the sign is a 1,000-year-old symbol of Turkish tradition.

“The primary goal here will be to request the cancellation of the ban. It will be argued that the suspension is unjust, highlighting incidents which were not penalized. The Bellingham decision will serve as a good precedent, questioning the fairness of this decision. CAS must definitely overturn this ban,” he added.

Provocation warning for Turkish supporters

Dinçer urged the Turkish fans who will attend Saturday’s quarterfinal match against the Netherlands in Berlin to show their reactions without falling into provocation.

“Let’s register our protest within legal limits. Let’s support our players. Our players will respond beautifully to this … I am sure tomorrow we will achieve a beautiful victory and give the best answer on the field,” he said. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will also attend the match.

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