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The DFB responds to Mesut Özil

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The DFB is doing its best to protect itself, while downplaying how explosive this situation has become.

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The DFB processed yesterday’s series of statements by Mesut Özil and issued a retort this morning in hopes of putting an end to any and all discussion on the topic (commentary below):

The presidential board of the German FA (DFB) addressed Mesut Özil’s announcement during a teleconference today. Özil won 92 caps for the Germany national team and helped define a very successful era, both on and indeed off the pitch. Mesut Özil played a key role in Germany lifting the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and so the DFB is and always will be incredibly grateful for his outstanding performances in Germany colours.

Diversity is a strength – not only in football – and that is why our integration efforts have a fundamental importance at every level. From the lower leagues all the way to the senior national teams, many footballers with migrant backgrounds are part of the DFB. We play and live together with our various roots, religions and cultures. What must connect us all within that, both on and off the pitch, is respecting the human rights firmly established in our constitution and standing up for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as respect, tolerance and fair play. A commitment to these core values is a prerequisite for every person who plays football for Germany.

Therefore, the pictures with Turkish president Erdogan raised questions for many people in Germany. We self-critically acknowledge that the DFB played a part in that when dealing with this issue. We also regret that Mesut Özil – unlike Jerome Boateng – feels as if he wasn’t given enough protection when made the target of racist slogans. However, it was important for Mesut Özil, like Ilkay Gündogan before him, to provide answers for this photo, regardless of the way the World Cup in Russia went. At the DFB, we win and lose together, all of us, as a team.

The DFB would have been happy for Mesut Özil to continue being part of this team on that common basis, but he has chosen otherwise. The DFB respects that, and for us as an association that wishes to be respectful to a commendable Germany international, we wish to make no public comment in regard to some statements that for us are incomprehensible in their tone and message.

For the DFB to have been associated with racism is something we emphatically reject, with regard to our ambassadors, staff members, our clubs and the work of millions of volunteers at grassroots level. The DFB has been very active with its integration efforts in Germany for many years, including the introduction of the Integration Award, creating the “1:0 für ein Willkommen” (“1-0 to open arms”) campaign and integrating tens of thousands of refugees into its footballing family. Over the past 15 years, the DFB has established its integration efforts on many levels, right though to the amateur leagues. We stand for diversity – from the representatives at the very top to the countless people working at grassroots level each and every day.

The DFB regrets Mesut Özil’s decision to step down from the national team. But it does not affect the association’s determination to continue its successful work on integration.


A quick summary

Effectively, the statement tries to do damage control in a volatile situation. There is a lot to digest from the statement:

  • The release begins by acknowledging Özil, along with his efforts and accomplishments as part of Die Mannschaft over the years.
  • The DFB then reaffirms its commitment to diversity.
  • The DFB tries to explain that they failed to handle the Erdogan picture properly but then takes a swift shot at Özil and imply that he has been a bit wishy-washy in terms of his treatment by the DFB — as opposed to how Jerome Boateng has felt — about the support and protection the DFB has provided him with regard to racism. With no direct quote from Boateng, it is hard to say why Boateng was used as an example aside of him being included as one of the “diverse” members of the squad, who has openly spoke about racism in the past.
  • The DFB then sums up its “appreciation” of Özil by saying that it would not comment on Özil’s statements from yesterday and that it regrets Özil’s decision to retire; but also that none of the events over the past two months would deter the organization from its efforts with diversity and inclusion.

The end goal of this release

With the release the DFB had one goal in mind: to end this situation before any more damage is done. By only really accepting blame for mishandling the Erdogan picture fallout, the DFB essentially dismisses Özil’s assertions regarding a lack of support and racism by choosing not to comment on them.

Admittedly, this is a textbook move in terms of putting out a public relations fire. Any situation will go away quicker if it is not talked about. Where this goes from here is not clear, but it would be hard to think there will not be an examination of the DFB, its leadership, and its policies after this ordeal.