On Mesut Ozil’s statements regarding the DFB, Erdogan and discrimination

So, as he joined up with his Arsenal teammates yesterday to make the trip to Singapore, Mesut Ozil released three statements via his Twitter account (we can take it as read that it was his social media team that did this). You can read the statements here.

The first addressed the issue of his meeting with Turkish president Recep Erdogan, something which caused controversy in Germany and serious unease elsewhere. This is an authoritarian figure whose treatment of dissent and reporting of that dissent ought to be a concern for everyone. A free press is vital in any functioning democracy, Erdogan has had journalists arrested and media outlets silenced, and his dictatorial behaviour, and his human rights record throughout his presidency, makes him the kind of politician you’d should go out of your way to avoid being photographed with.

Yet when he visited the UK, Ozil along with Man City’s Ilkay Gundogan and Everton striker Cenk Tosun met him, handed him club shirts. Gundogan’s even said, “To my president, with my respects.”

In an era when the press are being presented to people as some kind of enemy, it’s a dangerous message when someone of Ozil’s stature appears to give their backing to one of the world leaders who actively treats them like criminals. I’m well aware that there are plenty of crap journalists and plenty of crap media outlets, but without the good ones shining a light on what the people in power do, then we as citizens of whatever country we live in, are left in the dark as these people take advantage of their positions to engage in corruption and misconduct. Politicians are supposed to serve the needs of the people who elect them, not use their position to do whatever they want, and presenting the press as liars or fundamentally dishonest is a very, very dangerous thing to do.

Not for the politicians, but for the journalists, for us, and for society.

Ozil’s justification for this meeting – made out of respect for the office of the presidency rather than the president himself – was weak. No doubt about it. I think he has a lot of excellent stuff to say in his subsequent statements, but it’s possible to believe that in this he was badly advised (to say the least), and that he really should have known better and done better. Nevertheless, he appears to have borne the brunt of the criticism for the meeting, while the other two players have flown under the radar a bit. Perhaps that’s the nature of being a world star, but it’s still worth considering.

Small update: Rafa Honigstein makes an interesting point about the possibility of a meeting with Erdogan being difficult to turn down, given how he has treated sportsmen who have been critical of him in the past. Not sure if this applies in this situation, but it’s a point of view I hadn’t really considered.

However, turning his attention to the DFB (the German football federation), Ozil pulled no punches over what he believed is racist treatment during and following Germany’s World Cup elimination. Even from this distance, it felt like he was unfairly scapegoated for the national side’s results and performances. It’s very odd that he became the spotlight for a collective failure that went way beyond him, and while he’s quite prepared to be judged on his performances, he feels there was a more sinister element to it.

He called out the DFB, Reinhard Grindel in particular, saying:

I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly. I know that he wanted me out the team after the picture, and publicised his view on Twitter without any thinking or consultation, but Joachim Low and Oliver Bierhoff stood up for me and backed me. In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose. This is because 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. I am treated as being ‘different.

And he makes the very salient point:

My friends Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are never referred to as German-Polish, so why am I German-Turkish? Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue. 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?

Citing examples of abuse and the treatment he’s had from politicians and some German football fans he goes on to say he will no longer play for the national side as long as he feels this discrimination:

I don’t want to even discuss the hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media that my family and I have received. They all represent a Germany of the past, a Germany not open to new cultures, and a Germany that I am not proud of. I am confident that many proud Germans who embrace an open society would agree with me.

The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten. People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has many players from dual-heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent.

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. I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t.

This decision has been extremely difficult to make because I have always given everything for my teammates, the coaching staff and the good people of Germany. But when high-ranking DFB officials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it.

Racism should never, ever be accepted.

It’s incredible stuff. I can’t really remember anything quite like it before, from any player, and it’s clear how strongly he feels about it. He is German born, a proud World Cup winner with his country, and he has given up on representing Germany because of racism and discrimination.

He deserves huge credit for going public with this, because the easy option was to just do it silently. When you speak on matters such as this, you open yourself up to backlash and, sadly, even through our coverage of it on Arseblog News since last night, we’ve had comments and opinions that we can’t and won’t publish for obvious reasons. For all the praise he’ll get for addressing a very serious issue, you know that there’s another side to it, and it’s a very unpleasant side.

I think it behooves us all to seriously consider what he has to say though. As a white man I understand that racism is bad, that any form of discrimination based on skin colour, where you come from, what religion you are etc should not be tolerated in any way. Not if we want to live in the kind of society we all aspire to. Yet my actual real-life experience of this is completely minimal.

I don’t think being called a Paddy when I was a kid in England (or a Brit when we came back to Ireland!) comes anywhere near the kind of stuff other people experience on a daily basis, so I feel like it’s important to listen to those people when they speak and when they have something they need to say. I can learn from it, or choose not to I guess, but rather than be dismissive of something because it’s not in my day to day life, I think it’s important to pay attention when someone feels this strongly about it.

It feels like we live in a world which is far too divided and much less progressive than I thought it would be in 2018. The rise of far-right entities, increased focus on nationalism, the re-emergence of actual Nazis for goodness sake, and the lack of tolerance and understanding for people across so many facets of society is extremely worrying.

There are those who think politics and sport shouldn’t mix, and I understand that to an extent, but that’s not reality. You cannot take away the human element simply because you want to be entertained without having to consider anything else. Those who call for sportsmen and women to be role models on one hand can’t cry foul when they, by taking a stand for something they believe in, become just that.

Is combating racism and discrimination not exactly the kind of example they should set for our children? Live well, eat well, have nice manners, be fair, be sporting, be kind, help old ladies cross the road, smile for the cameras. Lovely stuff. But outside that bubble of PR created to earn sponsorships and endorsements a real world exists in which life is unnecessarily unfair for far too many people, and if footballers or American Footballers or basketball players or whoever else stands up to highlight that, then they should be applauded, not derided or criticised, regardless of how far up the political food-chain that criticism comes from.

In this, Mesut Ozil has taken a strong stand. I think he deserves to be heard and it’s to his credit that he’s spoken out. I know some won’t agree, but fundamentally he’s railing against discrimination based on his ancestry and his religion, so if you find fault with that, perhaps you need to step back and think about it a little more.

All very serious stuff, I know, but it is what it is. James and I will be here with an Arsecast Extra for you later on this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog and use the hashtag #arsecastextra.

Until then.