One of Germany’s best football players, Mesut Ozil, last night quit the national team because his Turkish ancestry has made him a target of “racism and disrespect”.
His impassioned statement, posted on Twitter, was one of the strongest public condemnations ever issued by a player on the subject of racism.
According to the ABC, his decision, “Came amid a political debate in Germany about an influx of 1.6 million migrants since mid-2014 that has seen a rise of the far right at the expense of traditional parties.”
Ozil was an integral part of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning squad, and has been voted (by fans) as the team’s player of the year five times. However, following Germany’s humbling exit from this year’s World Cup, the creative (and at times, defensively lax) midfielder faced heavy criticism.
If he had been scape-goated for his on-field performance, the 29 year old would probably have taken it (as he has various times in the past). But much of it, he says, was based on a photo he had taken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“For me, having a picture with President Erdoğan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” Özil wrote on Twitter.
“My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies. The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.”
As reported by The Guardian, Ozil was verbally abused by fans after a match against Sweden in the group stage of the World Cup. “A German fan told me after the game, ‘Özil, fuck off you Turkish shit, piss off you Turkish pig.’ I don’t want to even discuss the hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media that my family and I have received.”
Germany failed to qualify from the group stage in Russia: its earliest exit from the tournament in 80 years. In last night’s statement, Ozil rejected being scapegoated by the media for the entire squad’s unsuccessful title defence.
“German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad”.
Ozil was also scathing in his assessment of German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel, who he claims had blamed him for Germany’s poor performance in Russia.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
A similar issue (in reverse) came to light with France’s World Cup winning squad, which has a number of players of African descent. Trevor Noah, a late-night comedy host living in the United States, took the opportunity to joke that actually, “Africa won the World Cup.”
When criticised by the French Ambassador to the United States, Gerard Arourd, for stripping the players of their French identity, Noah responded by exposing the close mindedness of Arourd, and many European politicians—on both sides of the political spectrum—by pointing out the following.
“When I’m saying they’re African, I’m not trying to exclude them from their Frenchness but include them in my Africanness” (Noah’s from South Africa).
Whether or not this was thought up later to justify a joke made in poor taste, or whether he had always understood the complex assumptions behind the gag, the point remains: you don’t have to give up your ancestry to be French.
— Benjamin Mendy ⭐⭐ (@benmendy23) 17 July 2018
Although some French athletes (like Benjamin Mendy) think pointing out the ‘Africanness’ of French players diminishes their ‘Frenchness’, the key is context. If a player feels like their Frenchness is being insulted: it was probably a shit joke.
Ozil on the other hand, proves that when an athlete does choose to embrace their roots, it is not always easy to do so—due to the media’s double standards, asking, “Whether there were criteria for being German that he did not meet and asked why he should be referred to as German-Turkish when fellow German soccer players Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were not referred to as German-Polish” (ABC).
“Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue” he said in his Twitter statement.