World Cup fans remind Germany of racism towards ex-teammate Ozil

Images of Mesut Ozil were displayed at the Germany vs Spain game following the German side’s protest over the ban on ‘One Love’ armband from World Cup.

Spectators hold a photo of former German international Mesut Ozil at the World Cup Group E football match between Spain and Germany, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, on November 28, 2022 [Julio Cortez/AP Photo]

Football fans in Qatar have appeared to hit back at the German team’s World Cup protest over the ban on “One Love” armbands by holding pictures of Germany’s former team player Mesut Ozil who became a target of racist abuse in Germany.

The group of fans at the Spain vs Germany match on Sunday covered their mouths while holding copies of hand-drawn sketches of Ozil and pictures of him in action for Germany.

The coordinated display was apparently in response to the German team players’ protest gesture last week when they covered their mouths during a pre-game photo to protest against the FIFA — world football’s governing body — clampdown on “One Love” armbands at the World Cup.

In covering their mouths, the fans on Sunday appeared to be referencing Germany’s own questionable treatment of Ozil, their former player who quit the German national team after becoming a target of racist abuse and a scapegoat for Germany’s early World Cup exit in 2018.

Ozil, a German-born descendant of Turkish immigrants, accused Germany’s football federation, fans and media of racism in their treatment of people with Turkish roots.

“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil said at the time of his departure from the German national team.

Ozil was considered one of the greatest midfielders of his generation and his surprise retirement from the German team in 2018 caused shockwaves.

Mesut Ozil in action for Arsenal in 2019 at Anfield, Liverpool, United Kingdom [File: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters]
“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 whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” he wrote on Twitter at the time.

“I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t … Racism should never, ever be accepted.”

Ozil also cited statements from German politicians, racist taunts from fans and hate mail as examples of the hostile climate he and his family faced leading up to his decision.

The abuse started before the 2018 World Cup when Ozil and Germany teammate Ilkay Gundogan posed for photographs with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gundogan also has a Turkish family background. He was subsequently jeered by German supporters during a World Cup warmup game.

The abuse of Ozil, in particular, increased after the tournament, helped by incendiary statements from Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff and the federation president at the time, Reinhard Grindel.

Grindel later said he should have given Ozil more support.

After playing in Sunday’s game at Al Bayt Stadium, in which Germany and Spain drew 1-1, Gundogan said he just wanted to focus on football from now on.

“Honestly, my point of view is: now the politics are finished,” Gundogan said.

“The country of Qatar is very proud to host the World Cup, also the first Muslim country, and I come from a Muslim family. So the Muslim community is proud. So I think now it’s just about football.”

Spectators hold photos of former German international player Mesut Ozil on the stands and cover their mouths during the World Cup Group E football match between Spain and Germany, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, on November 27, 2022 [Matthias Schrader/AP Photo]
Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press