Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has suggested that Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündoğan were ‘excluded’ from Germany because of their roots, and called the treatment of the pair ‘racism’.
For those somehow still unaware of the background to this story, Özil received a disproportionate amount of the blame for Germany’s early World Cup exit this summer, as a result of a photo with Erdogan before the tournament. Many in the media focused in on Özil’s Turkish roots and stopped treating him like every other German player.
A similar thing happened with Ilkay Gündoğan, though to a lesser extent since he wasn’t as pivotal in the team. The issue has mostly died down lately, but Erdogan reignited it this week by speaking out on the subject.
“Frankly, as their president, I cannot understand why these two young men, who rose as high as the national team, were excluded,” he said. “Such racism must come to an end.”
In all honesty, Erdogan doesn’t really help the situation by referring to himself as ‘their president’ here. Both Özil and Gündoğan are German citizens, so it’s a bit strange to refer to the president of Turkey as theirs, even if they do have Turkish roots.
The general point about the treatment of the pair is solid though. This is far from the first time a football player has met with a political leader, but it’s the first time I remember a picture of the meeting being used to question a player’s allegiance to their country.
Özil was completely justified in stepping down from the national team in the end. It’s great to see him thriving at club level since then, with three goals in his last four games. Let’s hope that continues.