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Saudi Arabia 'denied Turkish teams flying banner said to be about Gaza'

Match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Riyadh cancelled after request to display Mustafa Kemal Ataturk t-shirt and slogan rejected
A picture taken during a match between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray on 17 March 2018 at Fenerbahce Ulker stadium in Istanbul (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Fenerbahce play Galatasaray on 17 March 2018 at Fenerbahce Ulker stadium in Istanbul (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Saudi Arabian officials rejected a request by two Turkish football teams to fly a banner appearing to condemn the war in Gaza and wear t-shirts featuring the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during a match in Riyadh, causing the match to be cancelled.

The Turkish Super Cup match between rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahce was due to be held on Friday evening in the Saudi capital.

According to Turkish media, both clubs had expressed their intention to enter the field of play alongside a banner reading: "Peace at home, peace in the world," a famous quote by Ataturk - founder of the modern Turkish state. The banner is widely thought to be in solidarity with victims of Israel's war on the besieged Gaza Strip.

The clubs also wanted to wear t-shirts of Ataturk and have posters of him held in the stands, as part of commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic.

Saudi authorities reportedly denied the request, leading to crisis talks involving the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) and the clubs' presidents to resolve the spat. 

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Cumhuriyet reported on Friday evening that the match had been cancelled over the incident. It said that both sides decided following the meeting not to play the match, and would return to Turkey later on Friday night. 

Turkish sports journalist Onur Tugrul reported that the banner and t-shirt were rejected because it was a last-minute request that was not part of pre-approved plans for the lead-up to the match. 

He added that Saudi officials denied the t-shirt and poster request as they "did not want concepts such as portraits and paintings to be in the stadium". 

Regarding the banner, he reported that Riyadh "did not want to appear to be taking sides in the Palestine issue". 

The TFF said that the meeting was over and that it would not be publishing an official statement on the matter. Middle East Eye reached out to the Saudi Arabian Football Federation for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

Last month, Saudi Arabia detained worshippers displaying shows of solidarity for Gaza and praying for Palestine at holy sites in Mecca and Medina. 

A British actor and presenter who was on a religious pilgrimage with his family in Mecca said he was detained by soldiers for wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh. 

“I was stopped by four soldiers for wearing a white keffiyeh around my head and a Palestinian coloured tasbih [rosary beads] around my wrist,” Islah Abdur-Rahman told Middle East Eye.

Meanwhile, filmmakers at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah complained that Saudi authorities had widely cracked down on the wearing of Palestinian keffiyehs during the event a month ago. 

Over 21,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since the war began three months ago.

It came after Hamas' surprise attack on southern Israeli communities on 7 October, which killed around 1,200 Israelis. 

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