BERLIN (AP) — The president of Germany's football federation conceded he made mistakes in handling a controversy over Mesut Ozil's photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but strongly rejected accusations of racism on Thursday.
Ozil announced his retirement from Germany's national team on Sunday. He criticized the federation (DFB), president Reinhard Grindel, fans and media for what he regarded as racism in treating people with Turkish roots. He defended the pre-World Cup meeting with Erdogan, who draws widespread criticism in Germany for being increasingly authoritarian.
Ozil was particularly scathing about Grindel, who accused him and teammate Ilkay Gundogan of allowing themselves to be "exploited" by Erdogan for political purposes. After Germany's embarrassing first-round exit from the World Cup, Grindel called for Ozil to provide an "answer" on the photo.
The Arsenal star said Grindel was "patronizing," blasted what he called his "incompetence," and asserted that "in the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose."
In his first personal response, Grindel said in a written statement he regretted the federation's criticism of the photo "was abused for racist slogans."
"In retrospect, I as president should have said unambiguously what is self-evident for me personally and for us all as a federation: Every form of racist hostility is intolerable and unacceptable."
Grindel pushed back against being linked with racism, writing: "I reject this emphatically, for the federation and for myself personally."
Grindel's statement didn't address his own future. The 56-year-old former lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party became DFB president in 2016.
He has faced calls to resign in recent days from critics who fault his crisis management. No senior German football officials have resigned over the World Cup debacle.
He did, however, say the DFB must "develop further" its work on integration and underlined the importance of winning the right to host the 2024 European Championship. Germany and Turkey are bidding for the tournament and UEFA's executive committee will choose the host in September.
"The tournament could tell a new football tale, bring children to clubs, bring people even closer together — with and without immigrant roots," Grindel wrote. "United by football."
Meanwhile, Germany's parliament speaker added his voice to criticism of how the DFB handled the Ozil case.
"I still don't understand why people at the DFB allowed such an affair of state to be made out of such an ill-advised photo action," Wolfgang Schaeuble told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. "It's a shame."