Arsenal star Mesut Özil announced his retirement from the German national team in a lengthy statement released via Twitter on Sunday, citing “racism and disrespect” as reasons for his decision. Özil, who was born in Germany and is of Turkish descent, posed for a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, an incident that spiraled into controversy during the lead-up to the World Cup.
He and fellow German national team member Ilkay Gündogan visited Erdogan when the Turkish president was in London on a state trip. The players were criticized in the press for the meeting, and some right-wing publications called for them to be kicked off the team ahead of the World Cup. Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German Football Association (DFB), also publicly chastised Özil and Gündogan.
“The DFB of course respects the special situation for our players with migrant backgrounds, but football and the DFB defend values which are not sufficiently respected by Mr. Erdogan,” Grindel said in May. “That’s why it’s not good that our international players let themselves be manipulated for his electoral campaign. In doing that, our players have certainly not helped the DFB’s work on integration.”
Erdogan has consolidated power since he assumed the presidency in 2014, leading an unprecedented attack on free expression and the press; Turkey has imprisoned thousands of citizens and more than 160 journalists (who Erdogan calls “terrorists”). Erdogan frequently uses the inflated power of his office to attack critics, among them New York Knicks center Enes Kanter. Turkish officials want to jail the basketball player for his frequent criticisms of Erdogan. In 2017, Kanter’s home nation even canceled his passport.
In his Twitter statement, Özil said the photo had “no political intentions” and that it “was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
After Germany’s disappointing exit from the World Cup, Grindel continued to speak about the Erdogan meeting in the press. “It’s true that Mesut has not commented yet,” he told Kicker magazine, “which has disappointed many fans because they have questions and expect an answer, and they rightly expect that answer.”
Özil reserved some of his harshest words for Grindel. “I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly,” he writes. “In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
Özil has made 92 appearances for Germany and was an integral member of his country’s 2014 World Cup–winning team.
Read his full statement below.