Commentary

Ozil letters: Charges of racism put ball back in German soccer's court

One can debate the wisdom of Mesut Ozil's decision to pose with fellow German national team player Ilkay Gundogan alongside Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there is no doubt that racism is an issue in German soccer and Ozil has been a target.

In a three-page letter posted Sunday night, Ozil, a mainstay on the German national team for a decade and starter on its 2014 World Cup championship team, said he was stepping back from the national team, accusing the German soccer federation (DFB) of “racism and disrespect.”



In particular, Ozil took aim at DFB president Reinhard Grindel.

“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil wrote. “I am still not accepted into society. I am treated as being ‘different.'”

Ozil said he had had enough.

"I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly," he said in a further attack on Grindel.

Germany failed to advance out of its group at the 2018 World Cup, and Ozil said the Erdogan photo and the controversy it caused were being used to explain the setback. More generally, the Erdogan photo was being used by right-wing politicians and media to press their anti-immigration sentiments.

Turks first came to West Germany in great numbers in the early 1960s as it needed "guest workers" for its booming economy. Policies later changed, allowing migrant workers to stay and bring their families. There are an estimated 4 million residents with Turkish backgrounds in Germany today.

Germany and other European countries are wrestling with what to do with the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who fled Syria at the height of its civil war and the continuing wave of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa.

Ozil started the two losses -- 1-0 to Mexico and 2-0 to South Korea -- but did not play in the second game, a 2-1 win over Sweden.

He has always been a lightning rod for criticism for his play, even when Germany won the 2014 World Cup.

After the 1-0 quarterfinal win over France, Paul Brietner said Coach Joachim Loew should stop playing "with only 10 people" and drop Ozil for what was perceived to be his indifferent play.

That view continues today. After Ozil's statement was released, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness said the last time Ozil won a tackle was before the 2014 World Cup. "And now," added Hoeness (who served 21 months in jail for tax evasion in 2014-16), "he is hiding himself and his poor performances behind this photo.”

Circumstances and poor p.r. management conspired to make a bad situation worse.

The photos of Ozil, Gundogan and Erdogan, who was running for re-election, was taken on May 13 in London, where they appeared at a charity event. It was posted on social media by Erdogan’s campaign team the next day, which happened to be the day before Loew announced his team for the World Cup.

Right away, Gundogan issued a statement that the photos weren't intended to be political in nature, but Ozil didn't comment on them until his statement issued Sunday night.

Grindel said the players had been manipulated but the matter was never put to rest. The view of at least part of the German public became evident when Ozil and Gundogan were jeered by German fans in pre-World Cup friendlies. In the wake of Germany's exit from the World Cup, Grindel called on Ozil to speak out.

"Many fans were disappointed because they had questions for [Ozil] and expected an answer," Grindel told kicker two weeks ago. "For me, it is absolutely clear that, once he returns from vacation, and with his own interests in mind, he should make his views heard."

Well, Grindel got to hear Ozil's views.

3 comments about "Ozil letters: Charges of racism put ball back in German soccer's court".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 24, 2018 at 9:01 a.m.

    When caught instead of accepting responsibility for their deeds, children often deflect blame on others for what they have done. Unfortunately some adults never grow up. The rest of us should stop enabling this childish behavior.

  2. s fatschel, July 24, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    I don't think he should have pulled the rasicm card. He seemed unhappy representing Germany and probably nearing end of his internatiol career regardless. Wonderful player at times but often not showing up in the big games. Time for Germany to move on with players that are hungry.

  3. frank schoon, July 24, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.

    Apparently, Ozil’s manager should have advised him better on the political ramifications of actions taken. Too bad he caught that American disease to attribute racism  as  the first excuse for his  failings...

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