The head of Germany’s football federation (DFB) has criticised national team players Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan for having their picture taken with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The two Premier League players – who are both of Turkish descent but were born in the German city of Gelsenkirchen – posed for the picture with Erdoğan on Sunday in London. Everton’s Turkey international Cenk Tosun was also present.
Gündogan wrote: “For my honoured President, with great respect.”
Erdoğan is currently campaigning for re-election having been in power for the past 15 years. He has been widely criticised for ruling in an increasingly authoritarian fashion since winning an April 2017 referendum on a series of constitutional changes, enabling him to dominate parliament as well as control the judiciary.
DFB chief Reinhard Grindel said in a statement that it was “not a good thing” for the players to pose with Erdoğan.
“The DFB of course respects the special situation for our players with migrant backgrounds, but football and the DFB stands for values that Mr. Erdogan does not sufficiently respect,” Grindel said.
“Therefore, it is not a good thing that our internationals have let themselves be exploited for his election campaign stunt. It certainly hasn’t helped the DFB’s integration efforts.”
Germany team coordinator Oliver Bierhoff also criticised the pair and promised he would speak with the players about the photograph.
“Neither one of them was aware of the symbolic value of this photo, but it’s clearly not right and we’ll be talking to them about it,” he said.
“I still have absolutely no doubts about Mesut and Ilkay’s commitment to playing for the Germany national team and how much they identify with our values. They were unaware of the symbolism of these pictures, but we cannot endorse it, and we will discuss the matter with the players.”
Erdoğan, who leads the Islamist-rooted AK Party, is a committed football fan and played semi-professionally in his youth, for the Istanbul team Kasımpaşa S.K.