The chief of the German Football Association (DFB) on Thursday rejected accusations of racism by Mesut Özil but admitted he should have done more to protect the midfielder against discriminatory abuse.
In a four-page statement announcing his decision to quit playing football for Germany on Sunday, Özil singled out football federation (DFB) boss Reinhard Grindel with harsh words.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Özil, who has Turkish roots, wrote Sunday in his lengthy farewell statement that unleashed a racism storm in Germany.
But Grindel rejected the charge four days on and has not yielded to calls for him to quit.
“I say this openly that the personal criticism has affected me,” he said.
“I am even more sorry for my colleagues, the many people working on a voluntary basis and the employees in the DFB, to be branded in connection with racism.
“For the federation as well as for me personally, I firmly reject this.”
But Grindel acknowledged that he should have stepped in firmly to end the abuse against Özil over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which led some to question the footballer’s loyalty to Germany.
“On hindsight, I should have clearly said what is obvious to me personally and to all of us as a federation: any form of racist hostility is unbearable, unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
“That’s valid in the case of Jerome Boateng, that’s valid for Mesut Özil, and also valid for all players who have a migration background,” he said.
In 2016, far-right leader Alexander Gauland took aim at defender Boateng, who was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father.
“People find him good as a footballer, but they don’t want to have a Boateng as a neighbour,” Gauland said.
Words from Grindel’s past have come back to haunt him.
As a backbencher in 2004 in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, he said that “multiculturalism is in truth a mess”.
In Özil’s scathing critique of Grindel, the Arsenal star said he tried to explain his “heritage, ancestry and the reasoning” behind the Erdogan photo to the DFB boss.
But Grindel was “more interested in speaking about his own political views and belittling my opinion”, said Özil.
The playmaker has walked away from international football after a career that included a World Cup win in 92 appearances, 23 goals and 40 assists for Germany.
Meanwhile, Grindel has outlined how the DFB can move forward in the wake of the Özil saga and the World Cup debacle after Germany crashed out following the group stages in Russia.
“Firstly, we need to take the ongoing debate on integration as an opportunity to develop our work in this area and to ask where and how we can give new impetus,” Grindel wrote.
“Second, as a consequence of the disappointing World Cup, there must be a sound analysis, from which the right conclusions are drawn in order to play enthusiastic, successful football again.
“Thirdly, we all have the common goal of winning the bid for the hosting of the European Championship 2024.
“For all these projects, we must work together in the coming weeks and months with great commitment.”
© Agence France-Presse