Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil has effectively closed the door on international football, citing criticism from the media and the German football federation president that struck him as racist.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Ozil, a German of Turkish descent, said that he “will no longer be playing for Germany… whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”
The German national football association, the DFB, did not carry news of the playmaker’s retirement on its website or social media accounts.
Ozil says he received criticism from German media after meeting Turkish President Racep Tayyip Erdogan in May in London, alongside his Germany teammate, Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, who is also of Turkish descent, and Turkey’s Cenk Tosun, who plays for Premier League club Everton.
Erdogan was reelected President last month following a high-stakes election campaign. The victory came after a two-year state of emergency that purged tens of thousands of his political opponents.
He has been widely denounced by human rights groups and governments, including Germany’s, for his handling of dissent in Turkey.
Ozil said that the meeting with the Turkish president was apolitical, that they had talked about football, and that he would be “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” if he had refused to meet Erdogan while he was in London. Erdogan reportedly used the images of him meeting the footballers in his reelection campaign.
At the time, DFB president Reinhard Grindel criticized the photo op, saying that the sport and his national association “defend values which are not sufficiently respected by Mr Erdogan,” according to the DFB website.
“That’s why it’s not good that our international players let themselves be manipulated for his electoral campaign. In doing that, our players have certainly not helped the DFB’s work on integration.”
Ozil reacts during Germany’s final World Cup group match, against South Korea. The holders lost 2-0, crashing out of the tournament.
In the statement released Sunday, Ozil said that a section of the German media had “repeatedly” blamed his dual heritage and “a simple picture” — posing with Erdogan — “for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad.”
Germany endured a disappointing defense of its 2014 trophy in Russia, ultimately failing to make it out of the group stage of the tournament.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 22, 2018
Made to feel unwelcome
Ozil, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League and has had stints with Spanish giant Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 in the German top division, says that the criticism makes him feel less than wholly accepted in the national squad.
“The treatment I have received from the DFB (German football federation) and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt.
“In the eyes of … Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
Despite the player being born in the country, and winning the World Cup in 2014, he says, he is “still not accepted into society. I am treated as ‘different.’
“Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?”
Debate over nationality, ethnicity
The decision comes on the heels of a debate surrounding nationality versus ethnicity on the football pitch, with South African comedian Trevor Noah joking that the World Cup, which France lifted on July 15, was won by “Africa,” given the number of players of African descent who played at the tournament for the French national team.
“Yes. Yes. Africa won the World Cup! Africa won the World Cup!” Noah joked on the July 17 episode of the show. “I get it. I get it. They have to say it’s the French team, but look at those guys — you don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France,” Noah said.
France’s ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, rebuked the comedian in a letter which emphasized that “the rich and various backgrounds of these players is a reflection of France’s diversity,” and likened the South African comedian’s appraisal of race to the “argument of the white supremacist.”
Noah said that he was celebrating the players’ Africanness, not detracting from their Frenchness
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) July 22, 2018
Ozil is currently on preseason tour with Arsenal, where the English team will take on French champion Paris St Germain and Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup in Singapore.
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