Two German footballers on the international team caused outrage among politicians and the German Football Federation (DFB) after posing in photos with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London on Sunday.
Mezut Ozil, star player at Arsenal in England’s Premier League, and Ilkay Gündogan from Manchester City are both of Turkish origin, and met with Erdogan at an event helping Turkish students in London.
Gündogan signed a shirt for Erdogan, which said “For my honoured President, with great respect.”
The meeting between the football stars and Erdogan was met with harsh criticism by DFB, whose president, Reinhard Grindel accused the Turkish president of manipulating the two German internationals.
“Football and the DFB defend values which are not sufficiently respected by Mr Erdogan. That’s why it’s not good that our international players let themselves be manipulated for his electoral campaign. In doing that, our players have certainly not helped the DFB’s work on integration,” Grindel said.
Former German international and now DFB director, Oliver Bierhoff, said: “Neither one of them was aware of the symbolic value of this photo, but it’s clearly not right and we’ll be talking to them about it”.
German politicians also reacted to the photo, which touches on a sensitive subject, namely the bad blood between Germany and Erdogan.
“It’s a crude foul to pose with the despot Erdogan in a luxury hotel in London and dignify him with the title ‘my President’, while in Turkey democrats are persecuted and critical journalists are detained.” tweeted German MP Sevim Dagdelen who is also of Turkish origin, and is the deputy leader of the left-wing Die Linke group in the Bundestag.
Turkish-origin Cem Özdemir, another German MP, also slammed the footballers meeting with Erdogan, in particular Gündogan’s “my president” message.
“The federal president of a German international footballer is called Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the chancellor is Angela Merkel and the parliament is called the German Bundestag,” Özdemir said.
Gündogan reacted to the criticism by saying he and Ozil did not mean to make a political statement by meeting with Erdogan.
“Are we supposed to be impolite to the president of our families’ homeland? Whatever justified criticism there might be, we decided on a gesture of politeness, out of respect for the office of president and for our Turkish roots. It was not our intention to make a political statement with this picture,” he said.
The row between Erdogan and Germany erupted after authorities in Germany and other EU states refused to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote on their soil last year, provoking a volcanic response from the Turkish strongman who said the spirit of Nazi Germany was rampant in Europe.
“When we call them Nazis they (Europe) get uncomfortable. They rally together in solidarity. Especially Merkel,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in March 2017.
“But you are right now employing Nazi measures,” Erdogan said referring to Merkel, pointedly using the informal “you” in Turkish.
“Against who? My Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers” who planned to hold campaign rallies for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, he said.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded Erdogan’s comments “shocking”.
Home to 1.4 million Turkish voters, Germany hosts the world’s largest Turkish diaspora but the partnership between NATO allies Ankara and Berlin has been ripped to shreds by the ongoing crisis.