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Mesut saga: The politics of football

THE ASIAN AGE. | NOVY KAPADIA
Published : Jul 28, 2018, 1:24 am IST
Updated : Jul 28, 2018, 1:23 am IST

It is the timing of the meeting, which led to an outbreak of xenophobic attacks on Ozil.

Mesut Ozil
 Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil was naive to think that posing for a picture with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey would not lead to a backlash.

In May, Ozil along with Ilkay Gundogan also of Turkish descent posed with Erdogan, the autocratic ruler of Turkey who was campaigning for re-election. Ozil claims that his meeting with Erdogan was not political but just a show of respect to the highest office of Turkey.

It is the timing of the meeting, which led to an outbreak of xenophobic attacks on Ozil. The ace German midfielder should have realised that Erdogan would utilise the photograph with a World Cup winner to project a positive image of himself before his re-election. Also the photograph was taken, just before the World Cup was to commence. Ozil should have known that due to social media, this picture would be seen by millions and he would be criticised as being partisan. Ozil is from a third-generation Turkish-German family and has grown up in Germany and so should have acted more prudently. He should have known that in Germany, major sports personalities are expected to act like apolitical role models. If Germany had won the World Cup, maybe the criticism would have been restricted to some right wing fanatics who are against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of openness and integration. However, Germany botched up their World Cup title defence and suffered the ignominy of an exit in the first round league phase. Hence the denunciation against Ozil and Gundogan escalated not only among fans and the media but also from German football officials. When announcing his retirement from the national team, Ozil claimed he was a victim of bigotry and hypocrisy.

Undoubtedly some of the reactions to Ozil’s departure have been racist and harsh. But as is said prevention is better than cure. Ozil should have anticipated the possible backlash and avoided photographs with the Turkish president who is seen in Germany as being authoritarian and not a democrat.

His exit from the national team, announced in a four-page statement, has raised long simmering questions about ethnic identity in Germany and the interaction of sports and politics. The repercussions of Ozil’s exit may have long term bearings.

Since the 2002 World Cup when Polish origin players, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podoloski opted for Germany, the trend of multicultural teams started for the Nationalmannschaft. When Germany won the 2009 Euopean U-21 tournament, midfielder Sami Khedira (Tunisia), playmaker Mesut Ozil (Turkey), striker Ashkan Dejagah (Iran), striker Gonzalo Castro (Spain) central defender Jerome Boateng (Ghana), left back Sebastian Brenisch (Poland) and right back Andreas Beck (Russia) were all naturalised Germans. By offering superior youth development facilities, talented players of different ethnic origins, residing in Germany, opted to play for them. Now talented young immigrants may rethink future options considering the bigotry that has surfaced following Ozil’s exit.

His retirement is untimely as he is just 29 years old and could have played at least till Euro 2020. Figures reveal Ozil’s quality, 23 goals and 40 assists in 92 appearances. But Ozil tried to be a Muhammed Ali and paid the price. You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

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