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Friendly with Galatasaray canceled over testing spat

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities late Monday said players and coaches from Turkish club Galatasaray were denied entry into the country after refusing to comply with COVID-19 testing rules. The decision drew complaints from the club and the Turkish Football Federation.

The players flew to Athens from Istanbul to play an exhibition Tuesday against Greek champion Olympiakos at Giorgios Karaiskakis stadium near Athens.

Nikos Hardalias, Greece’s deputy minister for civil protection, said the team members were subject to supplementary COVID-19 tests at the airport despite carrying negative test results with them, as part of random testing procedures that apply to all visitors.

“No exceptions can be made to safety rules. The application of those procedures must be absolute,” Hardalias said in a statement, adding that the match had been canceled.

“Given their refusal to comply with those rules, they were refused entry into the country on my orders.”

The Turkish Football Federation said the players had been treated in an “unacceptable” way.

“We condemn the attitude adopted by the Greek authorities. Their behavior was not in a sporting spirit. We stand by Galatasaray sports club,” the federation said.

Galatasaray said the incident displayed “clear discrimination against a Turkish team,” adding that the players and coach Fatih Terim had been instructed to return to Turkey.

The club said Turkey’s ambassador in Athens, Burak Ozugergin, had gone to the airport in an unsuccessful effort to try and secure its entry into the country.

NATO members Greece and Turkey have longstanding disputes over sea boundaries and mineral rights in the eastern Mediterranean as well as the respective rights of ethnic and religious minorities in each country. Tension flared last summer when Turkey sent exploration vessels into waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry described the behavior by Greek officials as unfair and “ungentlemanly.”

“The fact that Greece welcomes one of our country’s leading teams with such behavior shows its intolerance towards our country, even in the field of sports,” the ministry said in a statement.

Greece has reported a spike in COVID-19 infections since late June, prompting the re-introduction of some restrictions. More than 46% of adults in Greece have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Follow Derek Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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