Senior officials from German Football Federation (DFB) slammed national players Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan for a picture taken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ozil who plays for Arsenal and Manchester City’s Gundogan met with President Erdogan who was visiting the U.K. for as part of an official trip in London on Sunday. Along with Everton’s Cenk Tosun, Germany’s star players posed for a photograph with Erdogan.
The photo sparked a furious reaction from DFB head Reinhard Grindel. “The DFB of course respects the special situation for our players with migrant backgrounds, but football and the DFB stands for values that Mr. Erdogan does not sufficiently respect. Therefore, it is not a good thing that our internationals have let themselves be exploited for his election campaign stunt. It certainly hasn’t helped the DFB’s integration efforts,” he said in a statement.
German national team’s coordinator Oliver Bierhoff said that he would talk with the players over the issue. He expressed confidence over players’ commitment to playing for Germany and the values it represents. However, he said: “They were unaware of the symbolism of these pictures, but we cannot endorse it, and we will discuss the matter with the players.”
Both players who were of Turkish descent were born in Germany and they preferred the German national team to play for.
German Coach Low Defends Players
As the picture has still had reverberations across Germany, national team coach Joachim Low defended the players and noted that the incident would be a lesson for them.
“But I am also sympathetic towards them. Two hearts sometimes beat in players with an immigrant background. .. It’s not that easy, and both have said they did not want to make a political statement,” the coach said on Tuesday.
He pointed out that the two players have done a lot for the integration.
Grindel who made the harshest criticism also softened his tone later on Tuesday.
In a statement, Gundogan said the Turkish Foundation organized the event in London and he, along with Tosun and Ozil, met with the Turkish president there.
“Should we have been disrespectful to the president of the homeland of our families? Despite the criticism, out of respect for the office and our Turkish roots, and also as German citizens, we opted for an act of courtesy,” he said, according to ESPN News.
He also emphasized that they had no intention of making a political statement with the picture.
Turkish officials also entered the fray. A senior official from Turkish Football Federation (TFF) slammed the German authorities for their reaction. Servet Yardimci, vice president of TFF, said that the president’s meeting with players was centered on “football chat.”
Speaking to AFP, he noted that Erdogan was himself an active football player and he regularly meets with football players as part of his interest in football.
The players, he argued, were not their promotional campaign.