By Andrew Warshaw
July 24 – The German Football Association (DFB) has hit back strongly over Mesut Ozil’s claims over racism and disrespect but conceded they could have done more to protect him.
The Arsenal midfielder has suddenly quit international football at the age of 29 after revealing that he and his family had received hate mail, threatening phone calls and online abuse sparked by his Turkish roots and specifically being photographed with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London in May.
Ozil won the World Cup with Germany four years ago but had a poor tournament in Russia and in a lengthy statement on Sunday evening threw the book at his federation.
Ozil claimed German FA (DFB) chiefs wanted him “out of the team” before the start of the World Cup and that only the intervention of head coach Joachim Low and team manager Oliver Bierhoff ensured he would travel to Russia.
In an extensive statement of its own the governing body paid tribute to Ozil’s contribution but rejected any suggestions of racism.
“We emphatically reject the DFB being linked to racism. The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base,” a statement said.
The DFB conceded it had not handled the matter well, adding: “It is regrettable that Mesut Ozil felt that he had not been sufficiently protected as a target of racist slogans.”
However, the DFB felt the photo of Ozil, who was pictured along with Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, had “raised questions for many people in Germany” and that “it was important to us that he explained it”.
The DFB stressed it “would have been happy” if Ozil wanted to remain part of the national team set-up.
“The DFB regrets the departure of Mesut Ozil from the national team. However, this does not change the determination of the association to continue the successful integration work consistently and with deep conviction.”
Britain’s anti-discrimination body Kick It Out said the “racist treatment” Ozil has faced in Germany since his country’s World Cup exit was “disgraceful” and several fellow footballers have come out in support of the Arsenal player.
Former DFB President Theo Zwanziger was quoted in German media as saying the federation had not done enough to solve conflicts ahead of the World Cup.
“Communication mistakes mean something happened that should never happen to migrants: They should never feel like second-class Germans,” he said, adding: “Ozil’s resignation is a major setback for integration efforts beyond football in our country.”
But the German media were less supportive of Ozil. The popular tabloid Bild said despite Ozil’s appeals for respect, he “ignores that Erdogan stands against the values of his German and Turkish homelands”.
Die Welt said wearing the German shirt means “more than a good game”.
“National players are role models, especially for young people with migration background,” it said. “Germany has to formulate its expectations clearly, and every athlete wandering between cultures has to decide whether he can or wants to do that. Those who accept the German passport and put on the national jersey must know what that means for them. The Ozil case made that clear.”
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