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A Case Study of Football and Racism Through Mesut Özil’s Story

Once upon a time there was a German boy who was of Turkish origins. And that was his biggest crime.

Does Football and Racism go hand in hand?
Image Source: Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford, United Kingdom /  [CC BY] Via Wikimedia Commons

If you have ever clicked on any online sportsbook news site in Germany or anywhere else in the world, that provided news at least slightly related to either FIFA or UEFA, you must have noticed one thing: they proudly claim that football and racism cannot possibly co-exist.

Every platform FIFA and UEFA appear on, they claim they are fighting against racism with all they have. We can easily find anti-racist propaganda videos, commercials, they launched several campaigns to raise awareness and solve a social problem through football. But has any of these campaigns really worked, and do they even mean it?

Racism against Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil said goodbye to the Nationalelf and decided it was time to quit playing for Germany. The Arsenal star explained his decision in a statement of over 2,000 words, and divided what he had to say into three parts. He had no complaints against UEFA or FIFA since he doesn’t work directly with either of those.

However, he did criticize DFB, the German Football Association, who happen to form part of UEFA, just like any other European nation’s football association. Özil accused DFB of attacking his Turkish heritage, of attacking him because of his ‘race’ and not his performance. He accused them of using his name for political propaganda in the extreme right-wing.

Özil and German politics…

Özil explains he is a professional football player, and as such, he is capable of accepting criticism regarding his performances as a football player. However, he wasn’t criticized for that. He was criticized for being Turkish, and for taking a photo together with the leader of his ancestors’ homeland.

Double standards, politics, racism, and football

Online sportsbook news sites in Germany tore Özil to pieces as soon as that photo was published. How can a German democrat take a photo with a political leader, with an enemy of the state, with a dictator, with a murderer? They brought up various reasons why Özil and Gündogan should be dropped from the national team.

Is racism in football inherent?
Mesut Özil – Image Source: Granada / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

They forgot one thing only: Özil is a football player and not a political activist. In addition, DFB representative Lothar Matthaus did the same. He also met a leader, a dictator, a murderer. Okay, his name was not Erdogan, but a bit more popular apparently. His name was Vladimir Putin.

However, no one ever criticized Lothar Matthaus for meeting a political leader, even though he should mainly care for football, and not politics. Why didn’t the german press attack him, just like Özil and Gündogan were? Why didn’t devoted German democrats attack Matthaus’ car and threaten his family as they did to that of the Turkish origins?

DFB failed Özil

Özil quits Germany. Özil will not be playing for Germany ever again because he feels betrayed, and he seems to be right. An entire nation stood up to him simply for taking a photo with someone they decided was not worthy of a photo with a German international. The same actions were justified for others, however.

Özil came up with pretty strong points about why he feels right quitting the German national team. In response, all he received was… well, not much. For example from Bayern president Uli Hoeness. His reaction to Özil’s accusation of racism was that Özil won’t be missed from the national team, because he’s shit anyways.

Now based on all this, can we say that football and racism are two separate things and can we truly believe UEFA, FIFA and their members’ actions when they preach about fighting racism? Özil might not have been at the top of his game during the World Cup. That’s why a football player should be criticized for. Not his identity. It’s time for DFB and the rest to finally understand that.

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