German soccer player quits national team, citing 'racism'
© Getty images

A player on the German national soccer team has quit the team after citing what he called “racism and disrespect” against him from soccer officials and the media saying that he is treated like a “German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

Mesut Özil, 29, said in a lengthy statement posted to Twitter that German media has targeted him and his Turkish background in response to a photo he took with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.


Özil, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League, defended the photo, saying that it was not meant to be a political statement or an endorsement of Erdoğan’s policies.

“The truth is that not meeting with the President would have been disrespecting the roots of my ancestors, who I know would be proud of where I am today,” Özil wrote, adding that he would have taken the photo no matter who was president.

The photo with Erdoğan was taken at a charity event in London in May ahead of the Turkish elections. Erdoğan, who has been criticized globally over human rights abuses, claimed victory in the election.

German politicians and media questioned Özil’s loyalty to the country following the photo and called on him to explain himself.

Özil said that some German newspapers were using the photo as “right-wing propaganda” and attempting to blame him for the team’s shocking group-stage exit from the 2018 World Cup.

“They didn’t criticise my performances, they didn’t criticise the team’s performances, they just criticised my Turkish ancestry and respect for my upbringing,” he said in his statement. “This crosses a personal line that should never be crossed, as newspapers try to turn the nation of Germany against me.”

“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he said.

Özil was a major contributor on the German team that won the World Cup in 2014.

Özil’s statement specifically identified German football (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel, saying that Grindel used him as “a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly.”

“Football and the DFB stand for values that Mr Erdogan does not respect,” Grindel said in response to the photo earlier this year. “That's why it's not acceptable that our national team players are exploited for his election campaign.”

Özil added that he and his family have received threatening phone calls and hate mail.

The DFB responded to Özil in a statement of their own, in which they denied allegations of racism and said that they are committed to “integration” in the sport, according to a translation by BuzzFeed News.