Mesut Ozil was careful in his remarks. He never once used the word “retired” when he withdrew from the German National team a few days ago. This drew an eerie resemblance to Germany’s very own exit to the World Cup. Both had three stages; a beginning, a middle, an end. That being said, much of his statements contained damning allegations and accusations that will have just now surfaced. This could be the beginning of a controversial and dark time for German football. The President of the German FA is in the center of this controversy and Reinhard Grindel faces an uphill battle if he wants is he is to cling to his job amid the allegations made by Ozil.
The beginning of Ozil’s withdrawal began when pictures surfaced when he and his compatriot Ilkay Gundogan met the increasingly authoritarian President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in London this past May. Both players are of Turkish ancestry with Ozil’s grandparents immigrating to Germany decades ago. When trying to defend himself to the public, he explained that he had, “two hearts, one German, One Turkish.” This a common sentiment for players who have immigration backgrounds. Ozil is not part Turkish, part German. He is 100% Turkish and 100% German. He went on to state that he had met Erdogan many times over the years. For Ozil, this picture was not a political statement but was a show of respect for the highest office of his family’s country. He came under fire not because people questioned his loyalty to Germany, but because Erdogan has notoriously become more and more dictatorial. He had cracked down on political opponents, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Ozil went on to say that not meeting Erdogan would have been disrespectful to the Office and disrespecting the roots of his ancestors.
His defense of his pictures with Erdogan is questionable, as is the decision to meet the strongman. Deep down, Ozil is the sole person who knows is his reasoning was genuine or not. Very few Turkish star athletes have openly spoken about politics. Of the even fewer who have publically criticized Erdogan, the circumstances can be dire. Enes Kanter of the New York Knicks criticized Turkey’s President two summers ago which resulted in the cancellation of his social media accounts in Turkey and his passport. He has since been openly disowned by his family for his political views and even went to the extent to implore him to change his surname. Enes’ father was later dismissed from his university position. Turkey’s government even went to the extent of issuing an arrest warrant to his name and accused him of being part of a “terror group.” Kanter is now a man without a country. Kanter’s story would explain why Ozil did not attempt to distance himself from Erdogan and their picture together. That being said, Ozil’s statements did not show any sign of remorse or regret. Nor did the Arsenal playmaker acknowledged that his meeting created an ill-timed and unwanted distraction mere days before Germany began their World Cup campaign.
Everybody is in agreement that this lead to an emotional discussion amongst the German media and fan base. This definitely had a lasting effect on the World Cup squad that Germany assembled is likely to have created rifts in the locker-room. This may not surprise anyone at this point but the lack of public support from his teammates is not at all surprising.
Ozil did not publically call out any of his fellow national team players. Still, the next part of his message acknowledging his withdrawal was full of criticism and accusations. The former World Cup winner condemned his former school, unnamed business partners and more for not having his back. He also accused certain sections of the German media for advancing their political causes when they published his pictures with Erdogan. The German tabloid, Bild, went as far as to compare Ozil’s picture with Donald Trump’s claims that Germans were “turning against their leadership” due to increasing crimes by immigrants. This coupled with Lothar Matthaus’ scandalous public views when he proclaimed that Ozil did “not feel comfortable in the German shirt.” This makes one sympathize with Ozil’s stance that there is vocal group in Germany that has xenophobic sentiments. This uncalled for disparagement of Ozil is no longer in the domain of football but has crossed over to a below-the-belt racist shots.
A majority of Ozil’s anger was directed at the man in charge of the German Fa, Grindel. The Arsenal player has accused him bigotry; alleging that the former politician has a “racially discriminative background.” Once a member of the conservative CDU party, Grindel has come out against multiculturalism, voted against legislation for dual citizenship, and has argued that Islamic culture has become deep-rooted amongst the German populous. Ozil went on to say that he felt betrayed given the inconsistent way the FA boss has handled the situation. Grindel has allegedly gone to the lengths of demanding a statement from Ozil to declare a commitment to his German citizenship after Germany crashed out of the group stages of the World Cup.
His angry words of goodbye did leave a glimmer of hope given that Ozil was careful to not use the word “retirement.” He concluded his statement by saying, “It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.” Grindel will definitely come under fire for his handling of Ozil’s departure and the resultant allegations that have come out. Ozil has been the poster boy for integration and multi-ethnicity during his tenure for the national team. He could once again wear the German colors should Grindel resign. However, Grindel’s resignation would not solve anything. He is merely a symptom of a much larger problem rooted in Germany. The tabloid Bild is a perfect example of this when they accused Ozil of “whining.” Ozil called out and criticized those who are racists and bigots – two words I hate to use alongside the beautiful game. But it is a reality we live in. Despite all the work and progress that has been done, the world still has a long way to go before racism and bigotry is truly eliminated.
It is unfortunate that very few people have come to the realization June 22nd marks a bigger defeat that the shock downfall of Germany in the group stages of the World Cup. Racism, xenophobia, and bigotry won; and because of it, a gifted footballer had to take a step back. He will no longer done the cherished colors of black and white because intolerance and backward thinking chauvinists were given a voice. Football has lost. Ozil has lost. Racism has won. This is the sad state of the world we live in.