Turkey’s Super Cup in Saudi Arabia canceled over reported Ataturk row

kemal arthrou

ANKARA — The Super Cup final between Turkey's Galatasaray and Fenerbahce scheduled to be played in Riyadh on Friday was canceled after Saudi authorities reportedly refused to allow the two teams to display images and banners commemorating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s secularist founder, on the centennial of the republic.

In protest, both leading Istanbul teams refused to take the pitch and began preparing to return home, Turkey’s public broadcaster, TRT, reported.

The tensions involving the Saudi authorities, the Turkish Football Federation and the teams surfaced earlier on Friday, when Fenerbahce President Ali Koc announced to the press that Saudi authorities were not permitting players to open a banner reading, “Peace at home, peace in the world,” one of Ataturk’s famous sayings.

“As far as I understand, the authorities did not accept it," he said. "We are trying to solve the problem."

Koc's remarks quickly caused a storm on social media, with thousands of Turkish users calling on teams to return to Turkey and cancel the game. 

Galatasaray players similarly planned to open a banner with another of Ataturk’s sayings: “How happy is the one who says I am a Turk!”

The team was also planning to do the warm-up with Ataturk tees.

Turks this year celebrate the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, and major events such as the Super Cup final are often used as occasions to remember and honor Ataturk.

Hours before the game, a meeting between Koc, Galatasaray President Dursun Ozbek and soccer federation head Mehmet Buyukeksi as well as intense contacts with Saudi authorities failed to resolve the impasse.

Minutes before the match, which was set to begin at 8:45 p.m. Istanbul time at King Saud University Stadium, also known as Al-Awwal Park, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and other prominent Turkish soccer clubs shared pictures of Ataturk on their social media accounts. Saudi authorities deployed police officers to the locker room to check if their uniforms bore Ataturk’s image, the TRT said. 

A joint statement released by the teams and Turkey’s Football Federation later on said the game was postponed due to “hitches,” without elaborating.

“The 2023 Super Cup game has been postponed to a later date in a  joint decision we made with our clubs due to some hitches in the organization,” it read.

Turkey’s already beleaguered soccer federation, facing allegations of match-fixing and cronyism, had also come under intense criticism for its decision to organize the game in the Saudi capital during the centennial of the modern Turkish republic. On social media, tens of thousands of users urged Buyukeksi to resign.

“FB-GS Super Cup should have been played in Samsun 19 Mayıs stadium in the country’s 100th year,” Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, posted on X, in reference to Turkey’s Black Sea coastal province where Ataturk kicked off Turkey’s fight for independence after World War I. “Preference to play abroad, let alone in Saudi Arabia, is a big mistake in such a year.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024