Turkish ministers on Monday warmly applauded the decision of Turkish-origin German footballer Mesut Ozil to quit the national team on the grounds of racism, with one senior minister hailing “a goal against the virus of fascism.” Ozil, who was born in Germany to a Turkish-origin family, had been under fire since posing for a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany’s squad ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
Breaking weeks of silence, Ozil said on Sunday he would no longer play for Germany internationally “whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.” The Arsenal midfielder had been heavily criticised by the leadership of the German Football Federation (DFB) for the picture and was also blamed by some in Germany for the team’s failure in Russia.
“I congratulate Mesut Ozil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul wrote on Twitter.
Turkey’s Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu, like Gul posting the picture of a smiling Ozil with Erdogan, added: “We sincerely support the honourable stance that our brother Mesut Ozil has taken”.
In a tweet posted before Ozil’s decision to leave the national side was made public, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the footballer’s defence of the meeting was “a pity for those who claim to be tolerant and multiculturalist!”
Ozil, 29, said he had been unfairly blamed in Germany for the side’s shock group stage exit at the World Cup.
He insisted he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and did not intend to make a political statement by appearing with Erdogan a month ahead of elections in Turkey.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” said Ozil.
Fellow German international Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City was also present at the London meeting with Erdogan in May on the president’s visit to Britain, as well as striker Cenk Tosun of Everton who was born in Germany but represents Turkey.
“When high-ranking DFB officials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it. Racism should never, ever be accepted.” Ozil blamed the German Football Federation (DFB) for failing to defend him against his most strident critics and singled out mistreatment from DFB president Richard Grindel as the most frustrating issue.
“Arguably the issue that has frustrated me the most over the past couple of months has been the mistreatment from the DFB, and in particular the DFB President Richard Grindel,” he said.”Whilst I attempted to explain to Grindel my heritage, ancestry and therefore reasoning behind the photo, he was far more interested in speaking about his own political views and belittling my opinion.
I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his (Grindel’s) incompetence and inability to do his job properly.” Ozil was a member of the Germany side that won the World Cup in 2014 and has been voted Germany’s national team player of the year on five separate occasions.
He also claimed he was being blamed for Germany’s disappointing World Cup.In May, Ozil was criticised after being photographed with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a London event. Ozil attended the event with fellow Germany international Ilkay Gundogan. Both Ozil and Manchester City’s Gundogan are of Turkish descent.
Ozil says he and Gundogan talked about football with the president.Afterwards, photographs were released by Turkey’s governing AK Party in the build-up to elections in the country, which Erdogan won outright. Many German politicians questioned Ozil and Gundogan’s loyalty to German democratic values. Germany has previously criticised the Turkish leader’s crackdown on political dissent following a failed coup. Ozil said he would have been “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” had he not posed for photographs with the Turkish president.
He added that he and his family had received hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media.