German FA firmly hits back at Ozil's claims of racist discrimination
The German Football Association has expressed regret over Mesut Ozil's decision to retire from international football, but denied any allegations of racism towards the Arsenal midfielder.
Ozil, 29, won the World Cup with Germany four years ago, but was also part of Joachim Low's squad which failed to progress from the group stages of the 2018 tournament in Russia.
In a lengthy statement posted on Twitter, Ozil - a third-generation Turkish-German who was born in Gelsenkirchen - accused the German Football Association of treating him with "racism and disrespect".
Ozil claimed German FA (DFB) chiefs wanted him "out of the team" before the start of the World Cup, due to the emergence of a photograph featuring him with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The picture led to criticism of Ozil in Germany. According to the player, only the intervention of head coach Low and team manager Oliver Bierhoff ensured he would then take part at the World Cup in Russia.
Ozil, who won 92 caps for Germany, also revealed he and his family had received hate mail and threatening phone calls and been subjected to social media abuse.
In an extensive statement of its own yesterday - coming after the DFB had spoken to Ozil, who is on a pre-season tour to Signapore with Arsenal - the governing body paid tribute to the midfielder's contribution, but also moved to reject any suggestions of racism.
The DFB said Ozil had made a "decisive contribution" to the 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil and praised his "outstanding performance in the jersey of the German national teams".
The governing body, though, stressed its integration work was "of central importance at all levels".
It said: "We play and live together with our different family roots, our religions and cultures."
However, the DFB felt the photo of Ozil, who was pictured along with Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan, had "raised questions for many people in Germany" and that "it was important to us that he explained it".
The DFB stressed it "would have been happy" if Ozil wanted to remain part of the national team set-up.
While not wanting to make public comment on some of Ozil's statements from his Twitter post, the governing body said it "emphatically" rejected any suggestions of racism within the organisation.
"For many years, the DFB has been heavily involved in integration work in Germany," the statement said.
The statement continued: "The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the countless, day-by-day dedicated people at the base.
"The DFB regrets the departure of Mesut Ozil from the national team. However, this does not change the determination of the association to continue the successful integration work consistently and with deep conviction."
Ozil has received plenty of support on social media following Sunday's announcement, including from his Arsenal team-mate Hector Bellerin.
Nevertheless, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness, who won the World Cup with West Germany in 1974, accused Ozil of producing "crap" performances for years when representing the national team.
London-based equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, though, said the treatment Ozil received over the last two months was "reflective of the experience of a number of footballers across Europe from mixed heritage backgrounds".