Dispute Between Turkey and Saudi Arabia Over Ataturk and a Soccer Game


The much-anticipated Turkish Cup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, was suddenly canceled due to disagreements over the athletes’ jerseys, which featured the image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Both teams wanted to wear jerseys with Ataturk’s image during their training before the match, as this year’s final coincided with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. However, this move met with opposition from the organizers. Turkish media reported that Saudi Arabian authorities also banned the display of Ataturk’s image or banners with political content, including Ataturk’s slogan “peace at home, peace in the world”.

The teams refused to comply with Saudi Arabia’s instructions and returned to Istanbul. Riyadh’s organizers cited the teams’ failure to comply with international football regulations, which require matches to be free of political slogans, as the main reason for the cancellation. Amid the controversy, there has been no announcement yet regarding the rescheduling or new venue for the final.

Both the Turkish citizens and the leadership of Turkey supported the teams’ decision to withdraw as a sign of protest. Specifically, Omer Celik, spokesperson of Turkey’s ruling AKP party, commented on the event on his social media account, “Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the founding leader and common value of our country. We would like to thank all our citizens who show sensitivity to Ataturk”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia in July 2023 amid efforts to restore relations following the rupture caused by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. However, the incident of the sports event seems to set Turkey back in its efforts to improve relations with the Arab state.

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