UEFA and the Military Salute Investigation – Part I

Yahya Kemal AKSU


Within the scope of participation to UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2020), in Qualifying rounds, Group H, Turkey played against Albania on October 11, 2019 and France on October 14 respectively. In both matches, after the team had scored goals, Turkish players displayed “military salute” gestures and accordingly UEFA has appointed an inspector in order to initiate disciplinary investigations with regard to “potential provocative political behaviour” nature of the gesture.

In accordance with the UEFA disciplinary provisions,a large fine could be imposed against Turkish Football Federation (TFF), as well as sanctions of partial closure, playing behind closed doors, stadium closure, etc. and also at least one match ban for each national player who participated to the goal celebrations with the military salute gestures.

In this post, the question of whether the salute has any equivalent sanctions in the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations will be answered by scrutinising some jurisprudence of FIFA and UEFA disciplinary bodies in the similar incidents taking into consideration the football industry in the 21st century and its role in the entertainment industry and nations seeking to inspire a feeling of a national unity.

Military Salute and Previous Political Situation

The press release of the Ministry of Defense of Turkey dated October 9, 2019 stated

“To ensure the security of our borders, to prevent the establishment of a terror corridor to the south of our borders, to neutralize the terrorist organizations and terrorists that threaten our national security, especially DAESH and PKK / KCK / PYD-YPG, and to provide appropriate conditions for the return of displaced Syrians to their homes and land, Operation has commenced at 16.00(p.m).”

Contrary to the press release issued by the Ministry of Defense, “The Spring Peace Operation” faced many negative reactions in the world, especially in Europe[1] and the issue has also come on the agenda of international organizations such as European Union[2] and the United Nations.[3]

Shortly after the commencement of the operation, in qualifying matches against Albania on October 11, 2019 and against France on October 14, 2019 respectively, the Turkish players, after the goals they had scored sent a tribute to the soldiers who participated to the Peace Spring Operation. After winning the match against Albania, a tweet was sent through the official Twitter account of Turkish National Football Team, that the salute was dedicated to the soldiers, martyrs as well as the fellow citizens.

In October 15, 2019 UEFA sent out a press release that an Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has been appointed to initiate disciplinary investigations with regard to potential provocative political behaviour by players of the national team of the Turkish Football Federation on the occasion of the 2020 European Championship Qualifying Round matches played against the national team of the Football Association of Albania on October 11, 2019 and the national team of the French Football Federation on October 14, 2019, respectively.

The possible disciplinary sanctions if decided that the behaviour of the sportsmen had a political provocative connotation, would have devastating effects on the national team’s performance as they have already qualified to participate in Euro 2020.

The General Structure of UEFA, the Disciplinary Bodies and Regulations

UEFA, the head of European football, was founded in 1954 within the association of 25 countries football federations, and headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland. Today, there are 55 member federations to UEFA, beyond European continent there are also federations of countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Israel, which are not located within the European geographical boundaries, but are thought to be close to the European football family for reasons such as location, history and/or culture. According to UEFA Statutes, the Association is politically and religiously neutral. Its objectives include promoting football in Europe in a spirit of peace, understanding and fair play, without any discrimination on account of politics, gender, religion, race, or any other reason, monitor and control the development of every type of football in Europe and organise international football competitions and tournaments at European level.[4] UEFA European Football Championship is the most prominent international organization among the national teams of the member countries’ federations.[5]

Within the UEFA Statutes article 57, UEFA has 3 disciplinary bodies: Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body (CEDB), Appeals Body and the Club Financial Control Body.[6] While CEDB, has jurisdiction to rule on disciplinary and ethical issues and all other matters which fall within its competence under UEFA’s Statutes and regulations,[7] Appeals Body has jurisdiction to hear appeals against decisions by CEDB and to rule on particularly urgent cases referred to it directly by the chairman of CEDB.[8] In Article 56 of UEFA Statutes, the UEFA Executive Committee the power to issue ‘Disciplinary Regulations’ or other specific regulations setting out procedures for the administration of justice and disciplinary rules.

The Relevant Disciplinary Provisions and Precedent Jurisprudence

Pursuant to Article 57 of the UEFA Statutes, as well as Article 29 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations (DR), CEDB is competent to deal with the case on hand.

UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, 2019 Edition is the regulation to be applied in this case, and the behaviours of the players, officials[9] and supporters will be evaluated within the scope of this norm and severity of the sanctions will be determined accordingly. In this context, UEFA DR goes into further detail as to what constitutes a breach of the UEFA principles of ethical conduct, loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship, to which all players must adhere.[10]

Briefly, article 6 of UEFA DR sets out the disciplinary measures that may be imposed in case of a violation.[11] Articles 11 to 16 regulate what constitutes a disciplinary offense.Also article 15 stipulates the length of the suspension according to the type of the misconduct and also states that fines are also applicable with the suspensions. Also in this section, the personal responsibilities of the clubs, federations, players, officials as well as the clubs’ and federations’ liability occurs from their supporters’ behaviors is defined.

According to the UEFA’s indictments, the articles 11, 15 and 16 of the UEFA DR are foreseen to be applied in the subject matter. For this reason, the relevant articles will be considered in seperate headings. Also, article 14, which prohibits racism and discrimination, is also mentioned in order to evaluate the aim and interpretation by the disciplinary bodies from  the term “spectator” whom got affected by the provocation, which should be considered one of the criterion expected to be applied by CEDB.

Take me to Part II

[1] Since the investigation initiated due to the given military salute during the 2020 European Football Championship Group Qualifying Stage, the impact of the initiated operation in Europe was considered to be a disaster. In this context, when it is skimmed through  newspaper headlines from some EU countries dated October 10, 2019: The German Süddeutsche Zeitung “Turkey launched attacks against Kurds”, the French Le Figaro “Erdoğan has launched operation against Syrian Kurds”, the Spanish El Pais ” Turkey launched airstrikes and ground offensive to Kurdish sites”, Italian Corriere Della Sera “Syria…Erdogan’s war…Occupation against Kurds has launched”

[2] In light of the Turkish military operation in north-east Syria, the EU reaffirms that a sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict cannot be achieved militarily. The EU calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/10/09/declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-recent-developments-in-north-east-syria/

[3]Airstrikes and a ground offensive by Turkey in northern Syria against Kurdish forces have left civilians dead and forced tens of thousands to flee, whilst  the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reported that seven civilians, including two women and a boy, had been killed in the first two days of the Turkish operation. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1049051

[4] UEFA Statutes, article 1,2.

[5] Buğra Cem İmamoğulları, Uefa Avrupa Futbol Şampiyonası Ev Sahibi Ülkenin Belirlenmesinde Stadyumların Etkisi, Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Spor Yönetimi Yüksek Lisans Programı Yüksek Lisans Tezi, 2012,  p. 4,8.

[6] UEFA Statutes, article 57.

[7] UEFA Statutes, article 33

[8] UEFA Tüzüğü, madde 34

[9] In UEFA Statutes, official defined as every board member, committee member, referee and assistant referee, coach, trainer and any other person responsible for technical, medical or administrative matters at UEFA, a Member Association, League or club as well as all other persons obliged to comply with the UEFA Statutes.

[10] Charles Maurice, Politics and sport: How FIFA, UEFA and the IOC Regulate Political Statements by Athletes, LawInSport, 20.05.2016 (https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/item/politics-and-sport-how-fifa-uefa-and-the-ioc-regulate-political-statements-by-athletes)

[11] Also, articles 53 and 54 in UEFA Statutes has the types of different disciplinary measures.