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Rummenigge calls Özil debate on racism a “phantom discussion”

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Bayern Munich’s CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge joined president Uli Hoeness in attacking Mesut Özil’s allegations of racism and his quality as a player.

MIAMI, FL - JULY 27: CEO of FC Bayern Muenchen Karl-Heinz Rummenigge poses in front of the skyline during the FC Bayern AUDI Summer Tour on July 27, 2018 at Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami, Florida.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge poses in front of the Miami skyline during the FC Bayern AUDI Summer Tour on July 27, 2018, at Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images

In a recent interviews with Sport Bild and TZ, Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has dismissed Mesut Özil’s widely publicized allegations of racism in his treatment by the DFB (the German soccer federation) and specifically its president, Reinhard Grindel. Rummenigge’s comments echo the verbal salvo fired two weeks ago by club president Uli Hoeness and backed up by club ambassador and pundit Lothar Matthäus.

In an in-depth interview with TZ, Rummenigge was asked whether the DFB can learn from the Özil controversy with respect to “values.” Critics of Özil argued that Özil should not represent Germany if he did not represent “German values,” interpreting his appearance with Erdogan and subsequent silence as an implicit rejection.

Rejecting the entire debate about potential racism, Rummenigge argues that the controversy reflects a failure of crisis management:

I would not characterize that as moral decline [ed.: literally, Werteverfall, “decline of values”]. I regard the entire discussion about Mesut Özil as a phantom discussion. It has absolutely nothing to do with racism. In my eyes, there is no greater promoter of integration than soccer. It’s striking, however, that the DFB did not have a consistent opinion in the Özil case; as a result, there also was no effective crisis management. Now we have to wait to see how the findings of the highly touted analysis turn out and how the new beginning will take shape on that basis.

This view essentially conforms to the official position of the DFB, which likewise rejected Özil’s allegations of racism, highlighted its integration efforts, and acknowledged its failure to act consistently in an official statement in response to Özil’s claims.

Rummenigge went considerably further in an interview with Sport Bild that will appear in print on Wednesday. In an excerpt made available online, Rummenigge echoed the harsh criticism voiced by Hoeness, apparently spontaneously, at Munich Airport just prior to Bayern Munich’s tour of the USA.

Responding to a question concerning Özil’s claims, Rummenigge stated,

Please: he wasn’t criticized because he is of Turkish descent. That’s a fairy tale that’s being told by his agents. That’s something that’s increasingly annoying me anyway: more and more, the agents today are giving the statements and interviews. It’s sometimes like Fairy Tale Hour.

Rummenigge followed up his remarks with a similarly damning verdict on Özil’s quality as a player. Louis van Gaal once had wanted to bring Özil to Munich. In Rummenigge’s account, he and Hoeness never entertained even the slightest interest in Özil:

Uli and I were always deaf in that ear. He was never a player that we thought about even just one percent. Never! [...] When we played in London, Uli always said, “Hopefully he’s playing today.”

Van Gaal coached Bayern Munich from 2009 to 2011, Özil’s breakout years with the German national team and Real Madrid. He joined Arsenal in 2013, where he still plays.