Religion | Despite best efforts, Inter’s knights err

Izmir, Turkey | With great sensitivity, Internazionale of Milan in September had agreed, in consultation with European football authorities, not to wear its centenary away strip to a Champions League group-stage match versus Fenerbahçe in Istanbul. Fearing that the St. George’s Cross, a chest-bisecting bold red on white, might trigger associations with the Crusades, the club gained permission to wear the home-standing nerazzurro (black-and-blue) shirt. (The cross serves as the municipal flag for Milan as well as for other cities worldwide.) Inter lost 0–1.

Inter again consulted with UEFA and Fenerbahçe before the return encounter at the San Siro on Nov 27. This time, the side wore the red-and-white and stormed to a 3–0 victory, which brought “profound grief” to Izmir (Smyrna)-based attorney Baris Kaska—and not just at the score line. The Fener supporter within a few days after the match announced that he would take legal action and now seeks judgment in the local courts in western Turkey.

Kaska asks UEFA to annul the match, citing the European body’s stated mission to bar discrimination “on grounds of gender, religion or race.” Internazionale, Kaska told Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, “manifested in the most explicit manner the superiority of one religion over another” (Ricardo Ginés, “Un abogado turco pide a la UEFA una sanción contra el Inter por una camiseta que cree ofensiva para el islam,” Dec 10). Columnist Mehmet Y. Yilmaz of Turkish newspaper Radikal supported the actions, also demanding that Inter’s three goals be stricken. (See The Times for other reaction.)

Kaska in the Spanish-newspaper interview makes particular mention of the Knights Templar, established between 1119 and 1120 during the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem, housed them in what had been the Jewish Temple, from which the Templars took their name. Only the knights, charged with defending Crusader states in the Holy Land, wore the regalia, a white surcoat with red cross on the mantle. St. Bernard of Clairvaux drew up their rule and praised them for being “most learned in the art of war.” He told them to cut their hair close and to “wash seldom.”

La Vanguardia points out that, following the Crusades and the rise of the Ottomans, the latter developed their own “religion of warriors, whose creed was a war cry, whose dogma was a call to arms.” A comment at the De Fide Catholica blog concurs, noting that the “Turkish soccer team itself wears the star and the crescent, whom many in Europe could identify with religion. Baris Kaska, shut up, go live in the medieval times you belong in, and don’t embarrass modern Turkey anymore.”

That such wars of faith and surrounding mysteries still hold sway seems curious in the globalized world. The scorer of Inter’s second goal on Nov 27, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was born in Malmö, Sweden; his father is a Bosnian Muslim and his mother Croatian.

La Gazzetta dello Sport points out that Inter Milan’s shirt production continues to cause problems. On another centenary garment, the club printed the incorrect date of its founding and misspelled its nickname “nerazzuro.” The misprinted shirts are now collectors’ items.

In spite of the controversy, both Internazionale and Fenerbahçe have advanced to the Champions League elimination rounds and could meet again as early as the quarterfinals.


  • Eintracht Frankfurt, citing the imbroglio over Inter’s shirts, rejected the cross motif as the first-choice design of supporters. The team sought a new look for the 2008–09 season but opted instead for a shirt with stylized eagle markings, eschewing any religious messages that might be read into the cross imagery (“German Soccer Team Shies Away from Cross on Jersey,” Reuters Soccer Blog, Mar 22).
  • Barcelona-based La Vanguardia discovered that Barça jerseys in Saudi Arabia and Algeria—apparently without knowledge of the club—were being sold without the cross of St. George, which occupies the upper-left section of the team’s badge (Xavier G. Luque, “Los países islámicos retocan el escudo del Barça para no herir sensibilidades,” Dec 15). St. George is the patron saint of the Catalan region.

    Various vendors in Saudi Arabia, the Spanish news agency EFE reported from Riyadh on Dec 19, prefer not to display the official Barça strip for fear the shirts will be confiscated by religious police (“Persecución a la cruz en Riad”).

    Barça had to alter its badge during Franco’s reign (1939–75) when display of the red and white stripes of the Catalan flag was forbidden.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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