Mesut Ozil has left Germany’s national football team over scapegoating and racism allegations, which stemmed from his performance in the 2018 World cup.
There are approximately three million Turks in Germany, of which the majority are Muslim, in a country where around 58.3% of the population are Christians. Ozil was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and is a third generation Turkish-German. He is undoubtedly a talented footballer: he is the first national player from an immigrant background to have made it internationally, and has been named as Germany’s best player for 5 years since 2011. He was the top goal scorer for Germany, with 8 goals in their 2014 World cup win. However, he failed to make an impact in the 2018 World cup, with Germany unable to progress to the round of 16. The brunt of Germany’s defeat was placed on Ozil, manifesting itself in derogatory and hateful comments.
Two months prior to the 2018 World cup, Ozil’s loyalty to Germany was called into question when he met Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan in London. Reinhard Grindel, president of the German Football Association (DFB), accused Ozil of allowing himself to be “exploited” by Mr Erdogan for political reasons. However, Ozil defended his actions, arguing that “having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country. My job is a football player and not a politician.” The 29 year old also suggested that his performance in the 2018 World Cup was slandered because of his Turkish heritage or the fact that he is a Muslim saying: “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
German newspapers reprimanded Ozil for ignoring Erdogan’s transformation of liberal Turkey into an Islamist dictatorship, something which is completely against the values upheld by both Germany and Turkey alike. Furthermore, the newspapers added that even though Ozil is a footballer, when he dons the German football jersey he automatically agrees to represent the ideals of Germany.
In spite of the abuse that Ozil has faced, he has still been inundated with support. Arsenal’s manager, Unai Emery stated that the team and himself “want to help Mesut feel like it is his home here with us, like a family and it is a family for every player.”
One of the most powerful messages was from Justice Minister, Abdulhamit Gul, who described Ozil’s decision as “the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism.”