BERLIN (AA): Footballer Mesut Ozil’s decision to quit Germany’s national team has sparked a divisive debate in the country on racism and discrimination.
“It is an alarm signal when a great German footballer like Mesut Ozil feels that he is no longer wanted in his country because of racism and not represented by the DFB” or German Football Association, Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley said on Twitter.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed respect for the 29-year-old star’s decision and thanked him for his contributions to the national team.
“The chancellor highly appreciates Mesut Ozil,” deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer told a news conference in Berlin.
“Mesut Ozil is a great player who has contributed a great deal to the national team. He has made a decision, and this should be respected,” she added.
Germany’s star player, who has Turkish roots, announced on Sunday his decision to quit the national team due to his disappointment with the DFB leadership and growing racist rhetoric against him in recent months by certain politicians and the German media.
Merkel’s coalition partner Social Democratic Party (SPD) has criticized DFB head Reinhard Grindel and demanded his resignation.
“Ozil’s decision to quit the national team is a shame for our country, it is disgraceful for the DFB,” Frank Schwabe, SPD lawmaker and party spokesman on human rights, said on Twitter.
He called on Grindel and Oliver Bierhoff, the national team’s general manager, to resign.
Photo controversy brought out ‘hidden racist tendencies’
Since May, Ozil has been criticized by German politicians and media outlets for meeting and taking a picture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London ahead of Turkey’s June 24 elections.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Ozil defended his meeting, stressing that his photo with the Turkish president was not about politics or elections.
“It was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” he stressed.
Ozil said far-right politicians and media used his picture with Erdogan “as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies” ahead of June’s football World Cup.
Despite hate mails, threatening phone calls, and racist comments on social media, he got no support from the DFB or its head Grindel, he added.
Ozil argued that Grindel wanted him out of the national team after the picture, but trainer Joachim Low backed him and also included him in the World Cup squad.
He slammed Grindel for trying to make him a scapegoat for the team’s World Cup defeat.
“I will no longer tolerate being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly,” he said.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he added.
-‘Why won’t people accept me as German?’
Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party welcomed Ozil’s withdrawal from the team, saying that he should have pulled out much earlier.
AfD leader Alice Weidel argued on Facebook that Ozil’s decision was a “typical example of failed integration” in Germany.
Ozil, who appeared in 92 matches with the German national football team, was widely seen as one of the best midfielders of his generation.
In 2010, he received Germany’s prestigious Bambi Award as an example of successful integration to German society.
But on Sunday, he voiced great disappointment with the racism and discrimination he faced in the country.
“I was born and educated in Germany, so why don’t people accept that I’m German?” he asked.