Germany’s top football players of Turkish heritage, Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan, have been reprimanded by the German football association (DFB) for their warm welcome of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Of course the DFB respects the special situation of players from migrant backgrounds. But football and the DFB stand for values that are not sufficiently respected by Mr. Erdogan. Therefore, it is not a good thing that our internationals have let themselves be misused for his election campaign stunt. It certainly hasn't helped the DFB's integration efforts," the statement by DFB President Reinhard Grindel reads.
The two German players, who were born to Turkish parents in Germany, met Erdogan, who has been criticized by Berlin over his crackdown on the PKK, in London, the UK.
The footballers have come under fire after photos of them posing and shaking hands with the Turkish leader emerged on social media, including on the account of Erdogan’s AK Party. Özil and Gündogan, who play for Arsenal and Manchester City respectively, presented Erdogan with signed jerseys. Gündogan had written “For my president” on his uniform.
Cumhurbaşkanımız Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, çeşitli temaslarda bulunmak üzere gittiği İngiltere'nin başkenti Londra'da Premier Lig'de oynayan Türk futbolcu Cenk Tosun, Türk asıllı futbolcu Mesut Özil ve Türk asıllı futbolcu İlkay Gündoğan'ı kabul etti. pic.twitter.com/X3ZY8wwCsa— AK Parti (@Akparti) 14 мая 2018 г.
Their actions have been faced with harsh criticism from German politicians. The deputy speaker of the German Parliament, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said, cited by The Telegraph, “It’s strange that German footballers would let themselves be used in the election campaign of a Turkish president who has so recently made disparaging remarks about Germany.”
An MP from the left-wing party Die Linke, Sevim Dagdelen, reminded the players that the national team should be aware of their actions when playing by Erdogan’s tune.
Spieler der deutschen Nationalmannschaft sollten sich bewusst sein, dass sie Vorbildfunktion haben und für Fair Play stehen, nicht nur auf dem Rasen. Die Distanzlosigkeit gegenüber einem ausländischen Präsidenten ist schlicht unangebracht. #Özil #DFB #Gündogan #Türkei pic.twitter.com/gAB7aWKUkR— Sevim Dagdelen, MdB (@SevimDagdelen) 14 мая 2018 г.
“Posing in a London luxury hotel with the despotic Erdogan and courting him as “my president” while he is oppressing democrats and imprisoning critical journalists in Turkey, is a gross foul,” she tweeted.
Twitter was also enraged with the footballer’s move. Some even called to pull the players out of the German national team.
Re Özil and Gündogan. Politics play an important role in our daily lives and for those in the limelight, it is irresponsible to be a bad role model. Supporting a dictator who disregards Human rights, human ethics and human lives as little as Erdogan is a serious stain.— BayernFanTV (@TheBayernFanTV) 15 мая 2018 г.
Shame to see Özil & Gündogan — 2 players I love to watch — in photos with Erdogan. Football has the power to do so much good. Allowing a tyrant to use your image for propaganda is reprehensible. Both should know better— Clark Whitney (@Mr_Bundesliga) 15 мая 2018 г.
Human rights abusers love footballers. Footballers don't have to love human rights abusers.https://t.co/jISTXBAh9G— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) 14 мая 2018 г.
Despite the uproar, national coach Jogi Löw named both Özil and Gündogan as part of Germany’s World Cup preliminary squad, announced on May 15.
Gündogan defended himself and Özil with a statement, explaining that they met Erdogan at a Turkish foundation event that helps Turkish students. Naming the meeting “a gesture of politeness, out of respect for the office of the president and for our Turkish roots” he rhetorically asked, "Are we supposed to be impolite to the president of our families' homeland?"
He also precisely stated that "it was not our intention to make a political statement with this picture."
Erdogan, who is known as an avid football fan and even played on a semi-professional team before his political career, is seeking re-election in June after 15 years in office.
In 2016, an attempted coup took place in Turkey and was suppressed the following day. Over 240 people were killed during the coup attempt and an estimated 2,000 were wounded. Ankara has accused Gulen and his movement, outlawed in Turkey, of playing a key role in the coup. Gulen has denied the accusations. In the wake of the coup, the Erdogan government immediately withdrew from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which bans executions, raising the likelihood of mass executions.
Following the failed coup, the Turkish authorities reportedly arrested over 13,000 people, 10,000 of whom were members of the Turkish military.
Since the suppression of the coup, numerous news websites in Turkey have been shut down at the request of the prime minister's office, under the pretext of endangering national security and public order. The Turkish government reportedly revoked the licenses of 25 media outlets.