ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish ministers on Monday warmly applauded the decision of German soccer player Mesut Ozil to quit that country’s national team while claiming racism, with one senior minister hailing “a goal against the virus of fascism.”
Ozil, who was born in Germany to a Turkish-origin family, had been under fire since posing for a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany’s squad ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
Breaking weeks of silence, Ozil said on Sunday he would no longer play for Germany internationally “while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”
The Arsenal midfielder had been heavily criticized by the leadership of the German Football Federation (DFB) for the picture and was also blamed by some in Germany for the team’s failure in Russia.
“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.
Turkey’s Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu, like Gul posting the picture of a smiling Ozil with Erdogan, added: “We sincerely support the honorable stance that our brother Mesut Ozil has taken.”
In a tweet posted before Ozil’s decision to leave the national side was made public, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the soccer player’s defense of the meeting was “a pity for those who claim to be tolerant and multiculturalist!”
Ozil, 29, said he had been unfairly blamed in Germany for the side’s shock group stage exit at the World Cup.
He insisted he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and did not intend to make a political statement by appearing with Erdogan a month ahead of elections in Turkey.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” said Ozil.
Fellow German international Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City was also present at the London meeting with Erdogan in May on the president’s visit to Britain, as well as striker Cenk Tosun of Everton who was born in Germany but represents Turkey.