Erdogan lashes out at opposition for 'exploiting' dispute between football clubs and Saudi Arabia

Sun, Dec 31, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Erdogan lashes out at opposition for 'exploiting' dispute between football clubs and Saudi Arabia

Istanbul (AP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed opposition parties for "exploiting" a dispute between two Turkish football clubs and Saudi officials.

The Turkish Super Cup final that was to be played in Saudi Arabia on Friday was postponed indefinitely after Istanbul rivals, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, refused to take to the pitch and returned home. Hundreds of fans of both clubs arrived at Istanbul's airports before dawn to greet and cheer them.

A joint statement by the Turkish Football Federation and the clubs on Friday cited "organizational disruptions" as the reason for the postponement, and thanked Saudi Arabia for its efforts in organizing the game.

However, media reports claimed the dispute was centered around players wearing jerseys featuring Turkey's secularist founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and carrying a banner with his motto, "Peace at home, Peace in the world." 2023 is the centennial of the proclamation of modern Turkey by Ataturk, and both clubs had earlier pressed for the game to be played on home soil rather than Saudi Arabia.

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Earlier, media reports had claimed Turkey's national anthem would not be played and Turkish flags would not be allowed in the stadium, but Turkish officials denied those claims.

The dispute became a hot-button issue over the weekend and featured extensively on opposition media outlets. However pro-government media outlets, as well as the clubs, the football federation and Turkish politicians remained mostly quiet on the subject.

Turkey's conservative president broke his silence late Saturday night during an awards ceremony.

"We wish for Turkish sports, especially football, to become a topic not of disputes, but of successes. Turning sports into a topic of daily political rivalry is wrong and serves no benefit to our sports," he said.

"We see that the statements made by opposition parties since last night are just the latest examples of political exploitation," he added.

Saudi Arabia has moved in recent years to stage international games and tournaments ahead of the men's World Cup it is all but certain to host in 2034. Spain and Italy are set to stage their Super Cups there in January.


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