Germany’s football association (DFB) has “emphatically rejected” allegations of racism from Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, but says it could have done more to protect him from abuse.
Ozil, 29, said he no longer wants to play for Germany, citing “racism and disrespect” within German football.
The midfielder says he received hate mail and threats, and was blamed for Germany’s disappointing World Cup.
The DFB said it “regrets the departure of Mesut Ozil from the national team”.
It added in a statement: “We emphatically reject the DFB being linked to racism. The DFB has been very involved in integration work in Germany for many years.”
Ozil was criticised by the DFB and in the German media after being photographed with controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an event in London in May.
He received more criticism after Germany were knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage.
The DFB conceded it had not handled the matter well, adding: “It is regrettable that Mesut Ozil felt that he had not been sufficiently protected as a target of racist slogans.”
It stressed its commitment to equality, saying: “The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base.”
What is the background?
Ozil, a third-generation Turkish-German, was born in Gelsenkirchen and was a key member of his country’s 2014 World Cup-winning side.
A month before Germany defended their title, Ozil met Erdogan, along with fellow Germany international Ilkay Gundogan, a Manchester City player who is also of Turkish descent. Ozil says he and Gundogan talked about football with the president.
Afterwards, photographs were released by Turkey’s governing AK Party in the build-up to elections in the country, which Erdogan won.
Many German politicians questioned Ozil and Gundogan’s loyalty to German democratic values. Germany has previously criticised the Turkish leader’s crackdown on political dissent following a failed coup.
The players met the German FA president to explain the image, though Ozil had not issued a public statement on the matter until Sunday.
He said Erdogan had also met the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May while in England, and said he would have been “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” had he not posed for photographs with the Turkish president.
“It wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” he added.