German Football Association (DFB) head Reinhard Grindel on Thursday said he should have made clearer that racism is unacceptable after midfielder Mesut Özil quit the national team citing “racism and disrespect” over his Turkish roots, Reuters reported.
Özil, who plays for English Premier League club Arsenal, was widely criticized for having his photograph taken with Turkey’s authoritarian President Tayyip Erdoğan in May.
Özil and İlkay Gündoğan, a teammate of Turkish descent who also posed with Erdoğan, were jeered by German fans in warm-up games before the World Cup in Russia.
Grindel rejected Özil’s accusations of racism against the DFB but said he regretted the photograph had been misused to justify “racist words” but did not go into detail.
“In retrospect, as the president I should have clearly said what is obvious for me personally and for us as an association, namely that any form of racism is unbearable, unacceptable and intolerable,” he said in a statement.
Özil said Grindel had blamed him for Germany’s group stage elimination from this year’s World Cup, their earliest exit from the tournament in 80 years, and considered him a German when the national team won but an immigrant when the side lost.
Grindel said the personal criticism had affected him.
“I feel even more sorry for my colleagues, the many volunteers and staff at the DFB to be mentioned in relation to racism,” he said. “I decisively reject this — both for me personally and for the association.”
He said he shared the DFB’s values of diversity, solidarity, anti-discrimination and integration and said that during his time at the DFB he had witnessed how football could help integrate people.
Grindel said the DFB would use the integration debate stoked by Özil’s departure as an opportunity to redouble its integration efforts.
He also said the DFB would do a sports analysis on the team’s poor performance in Russia and added it hoped to win the bid to host the Euro 2024 tournament — for which Turkey is also bidding. UEFA will hold a meeting on Sept. 27 to choose between them.