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- Mesut Özil, a midfielder who has been a key piece of Germany’s national soccer team for years, including the 2014 World Cup-winning team, has retired from international soccer.
- Özil, who has Turkish ancestry and is a practicing Muslim, cited what he characterized as racist abuse from certain media outlets and fans as well as mistreatment from the German football federation’s president.
Mesut Özil, a German-Turkish midfielder who was a crucial piece of Germany’s 2014 World Cup win, has retired from the German national team and international soccer, citing racist treatment from the federation and some German fans.
Özil drew a backlash before the World Cup after he posed for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The photo triggered a slew of attacks toward Özil based not only on the history of human-rights abuses in Turkey under Erdogan but also on Özil’s Turkish ancestry and Islamic faith.
“What I can’t accept, are German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad,” Özil said in a lengthy statement posted on social media.
He had particularly harsh words for the German football association’s president, Reinhard Grindel, whom he noted had previously called multiculturalism “a myth” and had made comments critical of Islam while a member of Parliament.
One particularly strong statement from Özil, who was born in Germany, was, “In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but an immigrant when we lose.” This echoes something the Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku said shortly before this year’s World Cup, when he wrote in The Players’ Tribune: “When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.”
Multiculturalism has become a hot-button issue in the world of soccer. The French national team has been celebrated for its diverse lineup of players, though even that sparked controversy when the comedian Trevor Noah congratulated Africa on France’s 2018 World Cup win.