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Player Boycotts Israel

DW staff (nda)October 9, 2007

The tensions in the Middle East seem to have influenced the decision of Iranian-born German international soccer player Ashkan Dejagah's decision not to travel with the national Under-21 squad for a match in Israel.

VfL Wolfsburg's German Under-21 star Ashkan Dejagah
Ashkan Dejagah's decision has drawn sharp criticism from many in GermanyImage: AP

Dejagah, who plays for Bundesliga club VfB Wolfsburg, asked his national team managers to withdraw him from Germany's European Championship qualifier against Israel, to be played in Tel Aviv on Friday, citing "personal reasons."

"He came to us citing personal reasons that seemed very plausible," DFB spokesman Jens Grittner said in a statement.

Dejagah was quoted by mass-circulation tabloid daily BZ as saying his motive was cultural.

"I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins," he said in a report published Tuesday. "That should be respected, and besides I'm doing this out of respect. My parents are Iranian."

Dejagah was born in Tehran, but later moved with his parents to Germany. He holds a German passport.

Iranian citizens have been forbidden from traveling to Israel ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the point from which Iran also began to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Ex-Bayern Star pulled from Tel Aviv game in 2004

Ex-Bayern Munich striker Vahid Hashemian
Vahid HashemianImage: dpa

The Under-21 star's decision is not the first to bring the tensions of the Middle East into German soccer. Former Bayern Munich striker Vahid Hashemian, now with Hanover 96, was pulled from the Bayern squad to face Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Champions League game in 2004.

Although Bayern cited a back injury as the reason for the Iranian's withdrawal, the potential visit proved controversial with opposition to Hashemian's involvement coming from Iran's national sporting body.

Calls for exclusion from national team

Dejagah's withdrawal has stirred controversy in Germany.

Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, called for Dejagah's exclusion from the national team, a call which was backed by Friedbert Pflüger, a leading member of the Berlin branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

German Football Federation (DFB) President Theo Zwanziger
Zwanziger said political views have no place in soccerImage: DW-TV

DFB President Theo Zwanziger meanwhile made his own opposition clear in a statement.

"I respect the decision of the coaches not to travel with the player because they told me that the player stated private and appropriate reasons," he said. "However, my position and that of the DFB is clear: We will not accept that a German national player refuses to play in an international match for reasons associated with his views on world politics."

The Central Council of the Jews in Germany responded with indignation to Dejagah’s decision.

"It is inconceivable and impossible that a national player initiates his own private Jewish boycott," Vice-President Dieter Graumann told German magazine Der Spiegel’s online portal. "It would be scandalous if the DFB does not take action."