Turkish President Erdoğan phones Özil to praise his decision to quit German team

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the “racist” mistreatment of Turkish-German footballer Mesut Özil, saying he had spoken with him on the phone after he quit Germany’s national team.

Özil’s decision to leave Germany’s national football team sparked a debate in Germany about racism in the German football Association (DFB) and integration in German society.

Erdoğan, who spoke to journalists after the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group meeting in Ankara, hours after he made a phone call to Özil, said: “The statement by Özil and the stance he has taken is completely nativist and nationalistic. It is well beyond all appreciation. I congratulate him because such a racist approach due to religion toward a young person who gave everything for the German national team, contributing to its successes, was completely unacceptable,” Erdoğan said.

Özil, a third-generation German, has been in the line of fire ever since he had a picture taken with Erdoğan in May, sparking questions about his loyalty to Germany.

The Arsenal midfielder, 29, announced his resignation from the national squad in a heartfelt statement late on Sunday citing “racism and disrespect,” including from the president of the DFB, Reinhard Grindel.

He defended his photo with Erdoğan in Sunday’s statement, insisting he had no political motive and was merely being respectful towards his heritage and links to Turkey.

The star midfielder’s statement also sparked a fierce debate in Germany as some critics demanded Grindel’s resignation.

“It will be very hard for Grindel after this,” Cem Özdemir, the former head of the Green party in Germany, told Deutschlandfunk radio according to Reuters. “He doesn’t reflect the breadth of football in Germany, and so it will be hard for German Turks, or indeed German Croats, to feel that the DFB is theirs.”

The DFB, on the other hand, said it regretted Özil’s departure but rejected his accusations of racism, saying it had for years helped to integrate people with migrant backgrounds and would continue to do so, adding, “The DFB stands for diversity.”

Özil decided to play for the German national team in February 2009, a decision that caused outrage among Turkish football fans who sent insulting messages to the footballer. The Turkish sports media also harshly criticized him.

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