Istanbul: Turkey's football chief on Tuesday condemned as "slanderous" and "unacceptable" German criticism of a meeting between top players of Turkish origin in Britain's Premier League and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Germany internationals Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City, both of Turkish origin, met Erdogan late on Sunday during his three-day visit to Britain.
Pictures of the meeting were then posted on the official Twitter account of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of 24 June presidential and parliamentary elections.
German Football Federation (DFB) president Reinhard Grindel responded that international players should not let themselves be "manipulated" in Erdogan's election campaign.
But Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chairman Yildirim Demiroren hit back by saying he had read Grindel's "slanderous" postings "with great sadness".
"The thoughts expressed by the DFB president are absolutely unacceptable," Demiroren said in a TFF statement.
He described Erdogan, a footballer in his youth, as a "passionate football fan" and someone who had made a huge contribution to the game in Turkey.
"So it's completely normal that he meets three Turkish-origin footballers born in Germany," Demiroren added. "This would be normal in any nation... if a footballer was invited by the president."
'My dear president'
As well as Ozil and Gundogan, who were both born in the German city of Gelsenkirchen, also present was striker Cenk Tosun of Everton who was born in the German town of Wetzlar but represents Turkey.
All three players handed over souvenir signed club shirts to the president. "To my dear president, with my respects," Gundogan wrote on his.
Demiroren said that Grindel had made a "terrible mistake" by allowing politics to infect sport and implied it could be a tactic in the race between Turkey and Germany to host the Euro 2024 tournament.
"The Turkish Football Federation will engage in no such behaviour and will continue its bid for Euro 2024 to the end within the rules of UEFA," he said.
Gundogan insisted after the controversy he "didn't want to make a political statement with this photo and even less so campaign" in the election.
But the images caused a furore in Germany, with lawmaker Cem Ozdemir, himself of Turkish origin, reminding the players that "the president of an international German footballer is called Frank-Walter Steinmeier," referring to the German head of state.
Updated Date: May 15, 2018 18:47:23 IST