Berlin/Ankara: Mesut Ozil's decision to resign from Germany's national football team unleashed a racism storm in Berlin on Monday, but earned the applause of Ankara with a Turkish minister hailing "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 wrote on Twitter.
Mesut Özil, famous German national of Turkish descent player who was part of the German squad of FIFA World Cup 2018, announced on Sunday that he would not play for the Germany after receiving racial abuse for his Turkish origin.
Mesut Özil noted that this racial abuse has started following a picture he was seen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was scapegoated for Germany's failure in the Russia 2018 World Cup. Özil highlighted the racist attacks by the German Football Association (DFB) and others made him feel unwanted, and he will no longer play for Germany "while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect."
In a three-part statement posted on the Arsenal midfielder's social accounts, Özil said in the eyes of DFB President Reinhard Grindel and his supporters, "I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose. This is despite paying taxes in Germany, donating facilities to German schools and winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, I am still not accepted into society."
Özil pointed out while his teammates Roman Podolski and Miroslav Klose are never referred to as German-Polish, he was kept being called a German-Turkish.
"Is this because it is Turkey? Is it because I'm a Muslim? By being referred to as German-Turkish, it is already distinguishing people who have family from more than one country. I was born and educated in Germany, so why don't people accept that I am German?" Özil said.
The player told about the racist treatment he has received ever since the photo made the headlines, from Chief of German Theatre Werner Steer telling him to "piss off to Anatolia," a Turkish region where many Turkish immigrants originated from, to a German football fan calling him a "Turkish...."
"These people have used my picture with President Erdogan as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies", he said.
Ozil's decision to quit was met with a mix of dismay and outrage in Germany. Underlining that sports brings a lot to integration in a country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respects Ozil's decision.
"The chancellor values Mesut Ozil highly. He is a great footballer who has contributed a great deal to the national team," said Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer, adding that he has "now made a decision that must be respected."
Justice Minister Katarina Barley wrote on Twitter that it was an "alarm bell if a great German footballer like Mesut Ozil no longer feels wanted in his country or represented by the DFB."
The DFB has so far stayed mum. In a first reaction from his former teammates, defender Jerome Boateng wrote on Twitter using the Turkish word for "brother": "It was a pleasure, Abi."
Former DFB chief Theo Zwanziger warned that the debacle was a "serious blow to the integration efforts in our country that goes beyond football".
For Tagesspiegel daily, the entire affair was a "watershed for sports, politics and society", according to AFP.
While noting that Ozil's thinking that the Erdogan photograph could be non-political was "naive", it said the fiasco had far reaching consequences.
"Ultimately, Ozil did not fall because of Grindel but because of a heated, populist mood in Germany," it said.
Germany has a 3 million-strong Turkish community, many of whom are second- and third-generation German-born citizens of Turkish descent whose grandparents moved to the country during the 1960s. Most of those people still preserve their Turkish identity and relations with their extended families in Turkey.
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