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The Identity Crisis

Mesut Özil – one of the important members of the 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning German team – is mired in a controversy. After Germany’s poor show in 2018 World Cup in Russia, ‘the most beloved player’ (of yesteryear) started receiving hate mails and threatening phone calls. The ‘hostile climate’ has prompted Özil to announce retirement from the German national team. Speaking at a press conference, the attacking midfielder recently said: “It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.
The talented German footballer has become an ‘immigrant‘ in his home and his only fault is that he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the past. The images of their meeting triggered a controversy in Germany (just before the World Cup). The German Football Association strongly criticised Özil for meeting an authoritarian ruler, like Erdoğan, in Ankara. Even his loyalty to Germany came into question. ‘Humiliated’ Özil could not accept this allegation. “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he said.

Özil with President Erdoğan

Özil further said that he had two options at the beginning of his career: either to play for Turkey or for Germany. And he had decided to represent Germany. “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten,” he told the press.
Does Özil have the right to meet the president of a ‘foreign’ country?
Özil was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany to parents who are of Turkish descent. So, Germany is his ‘only‘ home. In fact, we trigger controversies by making the normal ‘abnormal’. The German Football Association’s argument is unusual and discriminatory. For the Association, Özil’s performance on the football pitch is not important, as it considers the player’s meeting with President Erdoğan as a crime. Nowadays, the narrow and one-dimensional concept of ‘nationalism’ is very common across the globe. An ordinary citizen becomes a ‘traitor’, if s/he meets a ‘political enemy’. But, how can ‘loyalty’ be the only yardstick to measure nationalism?

Many sportspersons are victims of such discrimination and majority of them keep their mouths shut. Özil is not like them. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, too, has raised his voice against racial discrimination, saying: “You always get the odd occasion when they call you the ‘Belgian of Congolese descent’, when you do bad. So I think, ok cool, if that’s how it’s going to be, revenge is going to be sweet. I won’t say anything now. I will open my mouth later.
These voices are important and valuable, as they encourage others to protest. Last week, tennis star Serena Williams claimed that she, too, was a victim of racial discrimination. Serena tweeted: “…and it’s that time of the day to get ‘randomly’ drug tested and only test Serena. Out of all the players it’s been proven I’m the one getting tested the most. Discrimination? I think so. At least I’ll be keeping the sport clean #StayPositive.

Serena Williams

Nationality’ cannot be the only ‘identity’ of a sportsperson. Perhaps, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is well aware of this. So, the chancellor said that she “respects” Özil’s decision, as he has done much for the national side. Özil – the third-generation Turkish-German – has 92 caps and has been voted the national team’s player of the year by fans five times since 2011.

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