BERLIN: A German right-wing populist politician who caused outrage by racially disparaging footballer Jerome Boateng followed up Friday by saying the national team is “no longer … German in the classical sense”.
Alexander Gauland, of the Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, also questioned the loyalty of German-born international Mesut Ozil, who is of Turkish origin, for making the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The controversy follows hot on the heels of a row last week which saw far-right German group Pegida slam pictures of black and Middle Eastern children on chocolate bars — only to discover the photos were of current Germany internationals as youngsters.
Neighbouring France has also become embroiled in a Euro 2016-related racism controversy after striker Karim Benzema claimed he was left out of the squad following “pressure from a racist part of France”.
The 28-year-old Real Madrid star, who is of Algerian origin, was charged earlier this year with complicity in an attempt to blackmail France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.
France legend Eric Cantona questioned the motives for excluding Benzema and fellow forward Hatem Ben Arfa, who is of Tunisian extraction, but leading political and sporting figures have denied racism was the reason for their non-inclusion.
– ‘Vile and sad’ –
In Germany, the three-year-old populist AfD assumed an increasingly anti-immigrant and Islamophobic stance as Europe’s biggest economy took in more than one million asylum seekers last year.
Gauland, a hardline deputy leader of the AfD, has come under fire in recent days for saying most Germans would not want Boateng, whose father is Ghanaian, as their neighbour — a comment Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman condemned as “vile and sad”.
The AfD co-leader elaborated on his views in comments to news weekly Der Spiegel, telling it that professional football is “no longer a question of national identity” but “ultimately a question of money”.
“A German or an English national football team is no longer English or German in the classical sense,” he was quoted as saying in early excerpts from Saturday’s edition.
Gauland claimed that although most Germans “cheer at the football… this multicultural world is still alien to most of them”.
He also said that he found Ozil’s journey to Mecca “hard to get used to”.
While he could accept a footballer making the pilgrimage, he said, “for officials, teachers, politicians and decision-makers, I would indeed ask the question: Is German democracy the right place for someone who makes the pilgrimage to Mecca?”
“Does their loyalty lie with the German constitution, or with an Islam that really is a political Islam?”
– ‘We are diverse’ –
Reinhard Grindel, president of the German Football Association (DFB), has condemned Gauland’s comments on Boateng as “simply tasteless”, while the German team released a video under the motto “We are Diverse” showing the players’ faces together.
On Friday, Grindel said that “we like to live together with refugees and with people of migrant backgrounds, and it’s important we integrate them well into our clubs”.
In some regions of Germany every second child has a foreign background, he said, adding that “if we fail to happily welcome these children into our clubs then football won’t have a good future in Germany”.
Grindel said that “the wave of sympathy with Jerome Boateng and Mesut Ozil shows that across society our national team is considered a very successful example of integration”.
“Millions of Germans are proud of this national team because it’s the way it is, because it has people from migrant backgrounds in its ranks and because what counts is not someone’s origin or religion but their performance”.