Ozil’s resignation sparks Germany racism storm as Ankara cheers

Mesut Ozil said he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and insisted he did not intend to make a political statement by appearing in a photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just before the World Cup finals. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Ozil’s resignation sparks Germany racism storm as Ankara cheers

  • After months of silence over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May Ozil erupted on Sunday
  • The Arsenal midfielder posted a stinging four-page statement taking aim at German Football Association (DFB) bosses sponsors and the media

BERLIN: Mesut Ozil’s decision to quit playing for Germany unleashed a racism storm in Berlin on Monday, but earned the applause of Ankara with a Turkish minister hailing “a goal against the virus of fascism.”
After months of silence over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany, Ozil erupted on Sunday.
The Arsenal midfielder posted a stinging four-page statement taking aim at German Football Association (DFB) bosses, sponsors and the media.
Ozil, a key member of the squad which won the 2014 World Cup, blamed the DFB management, in particular its president Reinhard Grindel, for failing to side with him against his critics.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil wrote.
The 29-year-old said he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and insisted he did not intend to make a political statement by appearing with Erdogan just before the World Cup finals.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” said Ozil, who was repeatedly singled out for criticism after Germany’s woeful performance at the World Cup saw them crash out after the group stages.
Ozil’s explosive statement, in three separate postings on Twitter and Instagram, was hailed by Erdogan’s government, which has championed a campaign against what Ankara sees as growing Islamophobia in Europe.
“I congratulate Mesut Ozil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul wrote on Twitter.
But it was met with a mix of dismay and outrage in Germany. The German Football Association (DFB) rejected claims of racism made by Mesut Ozil against their president Reinhard Grindel in an angry resignation letter.
“We reject the notion that the DFB is associated with racism,” read a statement.
“The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base.”
Underlining that sports brings a lot to integration in a country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respects Ozil’s decision.
“The chancellor values Mesut Ozil highly. He is a great footballer who has contributed a great deal to the national team,” said Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer, adding that he has “now made a decision that must be respected.”
Justice Minister Katarina Barley wrote on Twitter that it was an “alarm bell if a great German footballer like Mesut Ozil no longer feels wanted in his country or represented by the DFB.”
Cem Ozdemir of the Greens party also voiced dismay that “young German-Turks now get the impression that they have no place in the German national team.”
At the same time, Ozdemir, who himself has Turkish roots, said Ozil “did not live up to his function of setting examples” by failing to distance himself from the hard-line Turkish leader.
Germany’s best-selling newspaper Bild led the charge of criticism against Ozil, calling his statement a “whiny resignation” and said he heaped “criticism on everyone but himself.”
Bild, which has for weeks called for Ozil to be dropped from the starting team, also rejected his claims that his Turkish origin and Erdogan photo have been used by some media to pander to the far-right.
“Ozil’s world view here is dangerously close to Erdogan and his despots,” charged the tabloid-style daily.
The photo, which was published on Turkey’s presidential website and the Twitter feed of the ruling party, came just before the June 24 polls Erdogan won to claim sweeping new powers.
Ozil has insisted that “it wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
For Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “all parties in the affair should engage in some soul-searching. I see few here who have really behaved correctly.”
Born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, Ozil has scored 23 goals and made 40 assists in 92 appearances with Die Mannschaft. He is third-generation German-Turk and counts among more than three million people of Turkish origin in Germany.
The DFB has so far stayed mum. In a first reaction from his former teammates, defender Jerome Boateng wrote on Twitter using the Turkish word for “brother“: “It was a pleasure, Abi.”
Former DFB chief Theo Zwanziger warned that the debacle was a “serious blow to the integration efforts in our country that goes beyond football.”
For Tagesspiegel daily, the entire affair was a “watershed for sports, politics and society.”
While noting that Ozil’s thinking that the Erdogan photograph could be non-political was “naive,” it said the fiasco had far reaching consequences.
“Ultimately, Ozil did not fall because of Grindel but because of a heated, populist mood in Germany,” it said.
“The danger exists because many who also have family roots in other countries or culture, can understand Ozil’s mood. And this needs to be countered quickly and decisively.
“Because more is at stake than just the future of the German national football team.”


Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

Updated 22 September 2018
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Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

  • Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
  • Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.

LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. 
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim. 
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez. 
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News. 
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.” 
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged. 
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.” 
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch. 
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.” 

Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League. 


Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration. 
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said. 
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer. 
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed. 
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends. 
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.” 
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football? 
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000. 
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels. 
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.” 
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.” 
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season. 
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.” 
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”

N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago. 


This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches. 
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.” 
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah. 
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.” 
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said. 
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches. 
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”