Just days after his divisive comments on Jerome Boateng, Alexander Gauland has claimed the English and German national teams haven't been "German or English in the classical sense for a long time."
Gauland, a prominent member of the populist political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), has once again stirred controversy by claiming the country's multicultural national soccer team has not been "German" in years.
"A German or English football team hasn’t been German or English in the classical sense for a long time," the party's deputy leader told the latest edition of weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.
But just because Germany has players with foreign heritage on its team didn’t mean that the country had become a land of immigration, he added. Professional soccer was "no longer a question of national identity," but rather "a question of money in the end."
The comments come just a matter of days after Gauland sparked widespread outrage by saying that many Germans would not want to live next door to national team player Jerome Boateng, who has a Ghanaian father.
"People think he’s fine as a football player, but don’t want a Boateng as a neighbor," Gauland told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.
That resulted in national condemnation, which forced even AfD leader Frauke Petry to distance herself from the remarks. The 75-year-old politician said his comments had been misconstrued and he had little understanding of soccer.
But Gauland told Der Spiegel on Friday that he believed most Germans did not accept immigration no matter the makeup of its world champion soccer team was. "I don’t believe the national team is the appropriate symbol of that," he said.
"There is still a strong bond to the country and people and history and tradition. They might cheer on the football, but this multicultural world is still foreign to most of them."
Several players with foreign roots will take to the pitch for Germany in the Euro 2016 tournament starting in France next week. Besides defender Boateng, midfielder Sami Khedira is half Tunisian, striker Mario Gomez has a Spanish father, forward Lukas Podolski was born in Poland, defender Shkodran Mustafi has Albanian roots, Leroy Sané's father is from Senegal, and the mother of defender Antonio Rüdiger is from Sierra Leone.
Star midfielder Mesut Özil, whose family came from Turkey, earned special notice from Gauland for going on a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. He said though it might be acceptable for soccer players, civil servants, teachers, politicians and other important decision makers should not go on a pilgrimage. "Does someone who goes to Mecca fit into German democracy?" Gauland asked.
However, the vast majority of Germans reject Gauland's assessment of Boateng, with 82 percent telling pollster Emnid they would gladly have the Bayern Munich defender as their neighbor. Even a whopping 87 percent of AfD supporters said they would like to have him move in next door.