Türkiye’s Communications Directorate has refuted allegations that Riyadh might impose a ban on Turkish citizens performing the Hajj pilgrimage following a dispute over the canceled Turkish Super Cup final between Istanbul giants Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.
The eagerly anticipated match, scheduled for Dec. 29, 2023, in Riyadh, faced a last-minute postponement after Saudi organizers refused to permit players to warm up in shirts featuring the image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Türkiye, in celebration of the republic’s centenary.
Already under scrutiny for allowing the match to be played in Saudi Arabia instead of Türkiye as part of the centenary celebrations, Türkiye’s football federation (TFF) faced renewed criticism over the row with Saudi hosts.
In a statement issued on Jan. 1, the presidential body denied circulating claims on social media suggesting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman intended to ban Turkish citizens from Hajj in response to the Super Cup incident.
“There is no official statement or decision from either country that could constitute an obstacle to Turkish citizens traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage,” read the statement.
According to the directorate, a protocol had been established around two months prior to the match, outlining the rules and principles to be observed on the pitch and in the stands. The statement argued that the controversy arose when, just before the match, both clubs requested to warm up in Atatürk t-shirts and carry banners featuring the Turkish leader’s words – a request promptly rejected by Saudi authorities.
The directorate asserted that there was no pre-match dispute between the sides concerning the singing of the national anthem or the placement of Turkish flags on the pitch.
Despite the tensions, fans of Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, arch-rivals on the field, rallied in support of their teams’ decision not to take the pitch on Dec. 29. Footage circulating on social media showed devoted fans greeting the returning players at the airport, waving Turkish flags and displaying images of Atatürk.