Last Sunday, international footballer Mesut Özil, a German national, surprised the world by announcing his resignation from the national team. The 29-year-old midfielder of Turkish origin defended his decision on Twitter, pointing out that “racism and disrespect” were the main cause.
“I’m German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he wrote. After Germany’s first round elimination from this year’s football World Cup in Russia, some believed that the team was mentally handicapped because of a political debate that started a few weeks earlier. In May, Mr. Özil met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in London where he posed for a photo with him. Two other German-Turkish players, Cenk Tosun and Ilkay Gündogan, did the same, and all of them faced criticism in Germany.
Mr. Özil initially stayed silent on the issue. But during the World Cup, it was mentioned repeatedly by some commentators. When Germany, the defending champions, was knocked out, some German media outlets pointed criticism to Mr. Özil. In his statement, Mr. Özil criticised the media in detail. However, his main target was Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German Football Association (DFB). Mr. Özil accused Mr. Grindel of racism and said players with foreign roots were discriminated against. The DFB has rejected all accusations. Mr. Grindel, a former politician, is well-known for his conservative views. During his time as a Member of Parliament, he had claimed that multicultural societies were a failure. After Mr. Özil quit the national team, Mr. Grindel issued a statement saying “any form of racial hostility will not be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances” within the team.
According to many Germans with migrant roots, the footballer described their daily reality that is often dominated by racism and institutionalised discrimination. “The fact that he openly talked about it encouraged many people with different roots to speak about their experiences without having any fear of exclusion,” said Çağlar Efe, a journalist from the city of Cologne. According to Mr. Efe, who has Turkish roots too, many people like him are confronted with racism on a daily basis.
He believes that the rise of xenophobia in the country is deeply connected with the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany. In his resignation statement, Mr. Özil said how offended he often felt when racist slurs and messages reached him online. He also pointed out that the behaviour towards him was different from that towards other migrant players like Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, who both have Polish roots.
“It is obvious that Islamophobia is connected to this issue. Many Germans demand more loyalty from Muslim migrants, especially Turks, than from other non-Muslim and White migrant groups,” said Samira Akbari, a student from the city of Berlin.
Politicians have also reacted on Mr. Özil’s resignation. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised his sporting success and preffered to stay silent on political issues, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas took a jibe at him. During a press conference, Mr. Maas said the “case of a multi-millionaire who lives in England does not say much about integration in Germany”. Currently, Mr. Özil is playing for Arsenal. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Erdoğan offered support to Mr. Özil. “It’s not acceptable to treat a young man, who used to play for the German national team, in such a racist way because of his religious belief,” he said.
According to many Germans with migrant roots, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil described their daily reality that is often dominated by racism and institutionalised discrimination in Germany
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