German football player Mesut Ozil's decision to quit the national team due to "racism and disrespect" he faced over his Turkish roots threw a spotlight on Monday on the country’s relations with its largest immigrant community after he came under fire for meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May.
A photograph that pictured the 29-year-old Arsenal midfielder, who was born in Germany to a family of Turkish origin, presenting a signed football jersey to Erdogan saw some German politicians, media and fans raise concerns over his loyalty to Germany's squad ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
German MPs signalled the midfielder's decision as a warning sign of racism in the country, while others said they saw this coming. Turkey, meanwhile, applauded Ozil's decision to quit the national team, labelling it a goal against the "virus of fascism."
Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel, through her spokeswoman, said that she respects Ozil's decision to quit playing football for Germany.
“The chancellor values Mesut Ozil highly. He is a footballer who has contributed a great deal to the national team,” Ulrike Demmer was quoted as saying by AFP. She added that he has "now made a decision that must be respected."
In a statement explaining why he chose to quit the Nationalmannschaft, Ozil said: "I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten."
"In the eyes of [German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard] Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," he added.
Following Ozil's announcement that he was quitting, Wiebke Muhsal, deputy chairwoman for the AfD in the German state of Thuringia, tweeted: "That took him a long time."
"And of all things, Özil complains about disrespect!? So far I haven't been able to recognize a commitment to #Germany, nor respect for identification symbols like the German national anthem," Muhsal continued
Dafür hat er ja lange gebraucht. Und ausgerechnet #Özil beschwert sich über Respektlosigkeit!? Habe bei ihm bislang weder ein Bekenntnis zu #Deutschland, noch Respekt vor Identifikationssymbolen wie der deutschen #Nationalhymne erkennen können. #DFB https://t.co/GS2faRdpCx
— Wiebke Muhsal (@WMuhsal) July 22, 2018
Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness has slammed Mesut Ozil following his decision to stop playing for Germany, saying "he's been playing dirt for years".
The former West Germany international said: "I'm glad it is over. He's been playing dirt for years. He last won a tackle before the 2014 World Cup. And now he hides himself and his c*** performance behind this photo," he told AFP.
"His 35 million follower boys, who of course do not exist in the real world, think he has played excellently if he plays a cross to a man," he added.
Other lawmakers defended Ozil's decision to quit.
"It is a warning sign when a big German footballer like @MesutOzil1088 no longer feels wanted in his country because of #racism and does not feel represented by #DFB," German Justice Minister Katarina Barley tweeted.
But Thomas Bareiss, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said it showed "disrespect" and was "misplaced", while German daily Bild said Ozil was "revelling in the victim role that has nothing to do with reality".
Turkey applauds Ozil
Turkish MPs commended Ozil's move, calling it "a goal against the virus of fascism."
"I congratulate Mesut Ozil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism," Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul posted on Twitter, along with the photo that sparked the controversy.
Turkish Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu also tweeted the photo, writing: "We sincerely support the honourable stance that our brother Mesut Özil has taken."
In a tweet posted before Ozil's decision to leave the national side was made public, Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the footballer's defence of the meeting was "a pity for those who claim to be tolerant and multiculturalist!"
Germany is home to about three million people of Turkish descent but still, immigration and the rise of far-right parties are key issues for many. "Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I'm a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue," he said.
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2018 19:07 PM