UEFA and the Military Salute Investigation – Part II

Yahya Kemal Aksu

Continued from Part I

General Principles of Conduct

According to the article 11 (1) of UEFA DC “Member associations and clubs, as well as their players, officials and members, and all persons assigned by UEFA to exercise a function, must respect the Laws of the Game, as well as UEFA’s Statutes, regulations, directives and decisions, and comply with the principles of ethical conduct, loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship.”Accordingly, 11 (2) (b) prohibits conducts insulting or otherwise violations on the basic rules of decent conduct, 11 (2) (c) prohibits the use of sporting events for manifestations of a non-sporting nature and 11 (2) (d) also prohibits conduct which brings the sport of football, and UEFA in particular, into disrepute.

Breaches of these principles and rules, inter alia, are punished by means of disciplinary measures which is articulated under article 6, by means of 18 different sanctions, such as, warning, reprimand, fine, playing of a match behind closed doors, full or partial stadium closure, etc. against federations or clubs, and 8 different individual sanctions against players such as warning, reprimand, fine, suspension for a specified number of matches or for a specified or unspecified period, etc.

Article 14 (7) of the previous UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, 2014 Edition, which was in force until the amendment in 2016, prohibited all kinds of ideological, political and religious propaganda, this provision was repealed on June 1, 2016. After this repeal, paragraphs 11 (2) (b), (c) and (d) of the UEFA DR have become the main provisions that afford UEFA a right of direct action against players who make political statements during the course of a game or tournament.[1]

After the amendment, the CEDB applied these provisions following the last 16 round of the Champions League of 2018-2019 matches between Atletico Madrid and Juventus. The first round was played in Madrid on February 20, 2019 and the host team’s coach Simeone, after his team’s opening goal, made a gesture by pointing his genital area with a his palms. The second match was played on March 12, 2019 in Turin. In this match, Juventus player Ronaldo scored three goals and after his 3rd goal, he also displayed a similar gesture alike Simeone.[2] CEDB examined both actions, and fined Diego Simeone and Cristiano Ronaldo €20,000 for their non-sporting behaviours.[3]

In this decision CEDB did not interpret both behaviours as provoking spectators, by means of Article 15 of the DC and instead of suspending them to a specified number of match(es) it was prefered to fine the players.

Provoking Spectators

The article which subjects the prohibition of provoking the spectators is regulated under paragraph 15 (1) (a) (vi) of the UEFA DR. Here, it is stipulated that the players and match officials involved in the provocation will be sanctioned for one competition match or a specified period.

In order to understand the extent efficiency of this offence, first of all, it is necessary to understand the term of spectator[4] in the aforementioned article, because it does not provide an explicit definition of spectators in the stadium, viewers, home or away team spectators. However, at first glance, bearing in mind the aim of the regulation, under which article it is regulated and the responsible perpetrators (players and officials) who will be sanctioned, makes the idea clear that the term ” spectators” refers to “spectators in the stadium”.

Indeed, Linsfield and Celtic played on July 14, 2017 in Champions League preliminary competition, during post-match Celtic player Leigh Griffith who hang Celtic scarf on goalpost was considered as provocative by CEDB and he was suspended one match under the aforementioned clause.[5] Taking into consideration of that decision, misconducts occurring from provocation the term spectator links to the spectators in the stadium and does not link to a wider extent.

On the other hand, in a decision rendered by the Appeals Body within the scope of Article 14,[6] which prohibits racism and discrimination, spectator was defined in a wider concept.

In the decision dated May 25, 2013, the UEFA CEDB fined Juventus €50,000, holding it responsible for its spectators’ conduct at the UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Juventus and FC Bayern München on April 10, 2013. During the match, one supporter displayed a banner containing the words “Via Filadelfia 88”, which is considered discriminatory under Article 11bis(1) and taken as a Nazi symbol.[7] The Club appealed the decision before Appeals Body and and regarding the alleged violation of Article 11bis of the UEFA DC, the appellant insisted that “Via Filadelfia 88” referred to nothing other than the location of one of the entrances at the club’s Comunale stadium, where the Juventus supporters used to meet before matches. The club produced evidence of this in the form of a book written by Beppe Franzo entitled “Via Filadelfia 88 Una Storia, Una Curva”, which described Juventus fans attending matches played in the 1970s and 1980s. In its decision, the Appeals Body, which examined the application, referred to the reasoning of a previous decision related to racism and discrimination, given against Zenit FC.[8] Within the quoted decision, it was stated “no symbol that is likely to be understood by a large number of reasonable spectators or viewers as a political reference to extremist and discriminatory ideologies is allowed. It does not matter whether the symbol displayed is identical to the symbol of a city or an inoffensive reference to a particular region’s background.” The Appeals Body acknowledged that the banner just linked to a location, that this behaviour could not be understood discriminatory, accordingly annuled the fine imposed by the CEDB, but instructed the appellant to prevent its supporters from displaying it again during UEFA matches.

According to the DR, the provoking spectators and “racism and discrimination” are two different violations where also differs by their impact in the society. As a matter of fact, while the provocation of spectators can be sanctioned with a suspension for one competition match or a specified period, racist and discriminative offences are sanctioned lasting at least ten matches or a specified period of time. In this decision, unlike Leigh Griffiths’ decision, the “zero tolerance” principle of FIFA and UEFA against racism and discrimination might have played a crucial role in the acceptance of a wide extent than the spectators in the stands.

Once the concept of the spectator is clarified, it is also necessary to understand what is meant by the concept of political provocation, in particular.

Today, according to the existing UEFA DR, there is no offence that particularly defined as political provocation, whilst this was explicitly stated in Article 14 (7) of the Disciplinary Regulations in force from June 1, 2014 to June 1, 2016. According to that article all forms of ideological, political and religious propaganda were forbidden. When we view at the regulations in force today, as mentioned above, it can be seen that players may be sanctioned under paragraphs 11 (2) (b), (c) and (d) for their political behaviours, and under Article 15 (1) (a) (vi) for provoking spectators. However, it is obvious that even the political message was clear in some cases, players were not sanctioned under the articles that prohibit political behaviours but some other regulations were applied.

In an event that occurred during the match between Switzerland and Serbia during the World Cup held in Russia in 2018 is important to interpret FIFA’s approach to political provocation. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, two Kosovan rooted players, playing on behalf of Switzerland, during their goal celebrations, both made the “double-headed eagle”[9] gesture inspired from the Albanian flag. It was obvious that both players used an international football competition to send a message from the past to the future, as a war broke out between Serbia and Albania between 1998 and 1999 over allegations of Kosovo, and unilaterally independence declaration of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008. There was a historical reference[10],while the Serbian spectators were also in the stands, on the basis of the gesture made by Swiss football players and the double-headed eagle, in this context, was appeared under some political motivations, in relation to the rivalry between two nations.

In this case, Xhaka and Shaqiri were fined by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to CHF 10,000 for their unsporting behaviours under Article 57 of the FIFA Disciplinary Regulations.[11] In its decision, the Disciplinary Committee accepted that the action was against the fair-play rules and was incompatible with sportsmanship; however, neither applied article 54, which bans the provocation of the public and foresees the suspension of 2 matches, nor the Article 58, which prohibits discrimination, and foresees the suspension of at least 5 matches.

Within a day of their punishments being confirmed a crowdfunding scheme had raised enough money to cover the players’ costs and the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, also set up an account called “Don’t be afraid of the eagle” into which people could pay a “symbolic contribution” in support.

Again, the French National Football Team won the 2018 World Cup, defeating Croatia 4-2 in the final. The French player Antoine Griezman made a military salute to the French President Emmanuel Macron, who congratulated him during the trophy. Also, the President of France placed the “Légion d’honneur”[12] badge to the national players with a ceremony held at the Elysee Palace in Paris and again Griezman gave a military salute to the President.

One of the important point that should be highlighted here, is that the offence by one or more players has no effect on whether or not the violation has accomplished nor on the severity of it. If the objective of the regulation is to sanction the eventual behaviour, which is thought not to be, accordingly it is in line with this opinion that Antoine Griezman was not even investigated by FIFA.

Another event in which the concept of political provocation had controversially interpreted was the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Fenerbahçe and Lokomotiv Moscow occured on February 16, 2016 in Istanbul. At the end of the match, Locomotiv Moscow Club player, Dmitri Tarasov, took off his jersey showing his shirt underneath with the image of Putin in military attire and a phrase that can be translated as “the most polite president.”

This event took place under a high tension where the Turkish Armed Forces of Turkey dropped  a Russian fighter jet due to violation of airspace of Turkey on November 24, 2015, and transmission of request from UEFA not to be matched of these two country teams, and under the UEFA’s designation of a high-risk” game category.

Here, the CEDB did not consider Dmitri Tarasov’s display under political provocation,[13] but instead fined the player for a fine of €5,000 according to the UEFA Equipment Regulations, on the basis of a rule prohibits the players to display political messages in clothings.

It appears that neither the FIFA’s Xhaka and Shaqiri decision nor the UEFA’s Tarasov decision did not consider the demonstrations that emerged as the reflection of a previous political conflict between the nations of two rival teams as a political provocation.

Responsibility of the Clubs and Federations for Inappropriate Behaviours of Their Supporters

Regulation 16 (2) (e) stipulates the responsibility of all federations and clubs from their supporters’ inappropriate behaviors,[14] and prohibits the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit a provocative message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly provocative messages that are of a political, ideological, religious or offensive nature.

Although it is stated by UEFA that the investigation was initiated due to the political provocative behaviors of the players, due to the reports of UEFA officials, it will be possible to sanction TFF because of the spectator behaviors under the initiated investigation within the scope of article 16 (2) (e). In these cases, the general practice of the CEDB is to impose varying amounts of fine on federations and clubs by assessing certain criteria, such as the seriousness of the event and occurrence of these type of similar events in past.

On June 6, 2015, in the UEFA Champions League Final match held in Berlin between Juventus and Barcelona Clubs, CEDB fined Barcelona €30,000 where supporters had displayed pro-Catalan independence flags during the match.

Again, on November 22, 2016, Borussia Dortmund played an UEFA Champions League match against Legia Warszawa and the Legia Warszawa supporters displayed a banner in the stadium with a statement “F*CK UEFA-MAFIA”. Due to a previous CEDB decision of November 10, 2016, Legia Warszawa was banned from selling tickets to away supporters but at this match, supporters managed to enter the stadium, indeed allocated to a particular section of the stadium. In the decision, CEDB considered the banner illicit and fined the Club €17.000 according to the article 16 (2) (e), by stating “football matches organised by UEFA to become forums for people who want to abuse the game’s popularity to publicise their political, ideological, religious or provocative opinions.”

Consequently, it is considered that if the military salute given by the players is considered as a political provocation, TFF may also be punished under this article for the behaviors of the supporters.

Looking to the jurisprudence of UEFA when evaluating and determining sanctions under its disciplinary regulations, it is clear that there is no general approach to each situation and every behavior of a player, team or spectators shall be evaluated ad hoc scrutinizing the specific context and the particular circumstances of the conduct.


Pierre de Coubertin,[15] the founding father of the modern Olympics, believed in the ideal that the games would serve for the benefit of humanity and enhance the friendship among nations. In contrast, the progress of the organised sport through the 19th century coincided with the rise of nationalism and politic polarisation. Even today, contrary to what Coubertin imagined, the sport is accepted and used as a featured apparatus to plant and sustain the opinion of national unity rather than international friendship.[16] In this context, as also ascertained by MDR Evans and Jonathan Kelle, sport functions as “a wide array of rituals” that serves peerless and multiple different ways of expressing national identities, creates the sense of solidarity and accord.[17]

The main problem in respect thereof, is arising from the expectation for the athlete to alienate himself/herself from the inherited cultural and sociologic past, to show his/her pleasure or sorrow with a stony face and a robotic spiritless manner and to adopt a plain and distanced-to-emotions attitude on the field that disregards the athlete, just like any human-being, is a bio-psycho-social being. In contrast, any gesture that may be interpreted as national or politic rejoices along with religiously motivated ones are widely seen in especially football as a pro-argument. In this context, it is possible to see some players making cross whereas some sujood.[18] The designation of Giamoco Mira in this regard is remarkable as he indicates that athletes may express their senses of belonging through behaviours, and reveal their thoughts and value judgements about life through gestures.[19]

The situation mentioned entails the FIFA and the UEFA to a dilemma as they show sensitivity to avert any kind of politic, religious and discriminative expressions in football matches and the use of competition as a platform for the promotion of them. Yet, today’s football progresses with the definition of the concept of “sportainment” that especially highlights passion, entertainment, values, and feelings above all, melts sports and entertainment in the same pot on one hand, the expression of national pleasure for one side may be provocative for the other side on the other hand, a situation which creates grey zones that brings the discretion FIFA and UEFA out of the sportive contest.

Within this framework, it will be right to argue that military salute in Turkish society is a supra-political,[20] passionate way of celebration concept, and the military salute served by the Turkish nationals with reference to Turkish soldiers is not targeting any fraction, religious faith, is not discriminative, and is conveying the message of solidarity and sense of belonging.

The investigation on TFF enables the UEFA to crystallise its understanding on the issue of “potentially political provocative action” by “narrowing the grey zones” and to put forward predictable rules and criteria to the stakeholders of football.

Even though the military salute served by the Turkish players is irrelevant to sport, the attitude should be interpreted as a way of celebration and salute, neither infringing the nature of sport identified by the UEFA, nor politic and provocative.

[1]Charles Maurice, Although the cited author has made this assessment for paragraphs 11 (2) (b) and (c) of the DR, in my opinion, paragraph (d) of the same article should also be considered within the same scope.


[3] Although the decision examined could not be considered as political behavior, it is considered that these articles mentioned should be included in the study in order to view the application by CEDB.

[4] Even in UEFA Statutes, there is no definition of the term spectator.


[6] Article 11 bis of the Regulation in force in 2013 is regulated in Article 14 of the last version of the Regulation in force today. https://www.uefa.com/MultimediaFiles/Download/Tech/uefaorg/General/01/81/94/48/1819448_DOWNLOAD.pdf

[7]HH Abbreviation of “Heil Hitler” https://www.farenet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Signs-and-Symbols-guide-for-European-football_2016-2.pdf

[8]Here the cited decision number is given as “25943_b”.

[9] It is a symbol of national identity for ethnic Albanians.

[10] Giacomo Mira, A Study of Discipline and Disobedience in Football,  School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, pg.25

[11] Anyone who insults someone in any way, especially by using offensive gestures or language, or who violates the principles of fair play or whose behaviour is unsporting in any other way may be subject to sanctions in accordance with art. 10 ff. and according to article 10 the measures are limited to warning, reprimand, fine and return of awards.

[12] Légion d’honneur, is the highest French decoration and one of the most famous in the world. For two centuries, it has been presented on behalf of the Head of State to reward the most deserving citizens in all fields of activity. https://www.legiondhonneur.fr/en/page/legion-honor-10-questions/406.

[13] If it was considered as political provocation, the player would have been sanctioned to a least 10 official matches according to the article 14 (7) and 14 (1)

[14] Strict Liability Principle: even if they can prove the absence of any negligence in relation to the organisation of the match they are liable for the inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters and may be subject to disciplinary measures and directives

[15]The International Olympic Commitee  (IOC) was founded on June 23rd, 1894, under the leadership of Coubertin.

[16]Bairner A (2001) Sports, Nationalism, and Globalization: European and North American Perspectives. Stony Brook: State University of New York Press.

[17]Evans and Kelley, 2002; Lechner, 2007a, 2007b; Smith and Kim, 2006

[18]In 2018 World Cup Both Messi and Neymar performed their goal celebrations by making cross signs whilst Salah sujooded after the goal he scored against Russia.

[19]Giacomo Mira, pg. 25

[20]Thus, Christoph Daum, who worked for more than 10 years by training three different football clubs in Turkey, and who is performing as the current coach of Romania national football team expressed that “Turkish army is a matter of priority in Turkey. Soldiers in Turkey are just like the police in Germany. They are your friends and subsidiaries” in an interview he delivered in his home country in the immediately after the UEFA investigation.