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Opinion: Erdogan affair casts a long shadow over DFB

June 9, 2018

The influence of the Turkish president was seen on the football field of a German national team game on Friday. The shadow he casts should prompt the German Football Association (DFB) to act, writes DW's Joscha Weber.

Belgien türkischer Ministerpräsident Tayyip Erdogan in Brüssel
Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Faget

When the TV presenter's post-match questions to Joachim Löw turned to the inevitable Erdogan question, the mood of the national coach changed. ARD's Alexander Bommes asked Löw for his thoughts on the whistles that greeted Ilkay Gündogan when he came off the bench during the second half of Germany's final game before the World Cup. Löw sighed, trying to stay calm after he'd cut a mean glance towards the whistling fans.

"We've talked a lot about it," Löw said, referring to the photo of Gündogan and fellow Germany player Mesut Özil with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The coach stressed that the issue has been dealt with internally and that there is nothing else to discuss. "Now we must look forward. Only then will the topic be over, OK?  "An understandable, but unrealistic, wish. This is an affair that won't disappear quietly.

Weber Joscha Kommentarbild
DW Sport's Joscha Weber

Not because the media have to fill a summer hole, but because the fans are angry. While Özil is injured, Gündogan is booed in Leverkusen. The whistles of Germany's own fans followed Gündogan's every touch of the ball in Austria six days ago too, creating a tough situation for the player and a nightmare for the coach, who applauded Gündogan and provided his player with unwavering support. A completely understandable response by Löw. For a successful World Cup he needs the support of the fans and especially players to keep them focused on the pitch. But it looks as though this drama will follow the team to Russia, and this is partly of the DFB's own making.

Gündogan and Özil must apologize

Whatever made Özil and Gündogan pose alongside Erdogan for his campaign and to present him with a jersey with the inscription "For my president, respectfully", it has had fatal consequences. A crack has developed between the intimate relationship of Germans and their national team. Shortly after the release of the Erdogan photos, a majority in a representative survey in Germany even demanded the exclusion of Özil and Gündogan from the team over the matter. A meeting was quickly arranged with the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But, unlike the DFB, this was not enough. Many Germans still shake their heads over the two players who are supposed to represent Germany, but at the same time pose with a man who tramples on freedom of expression in his country, blocks political opponents and dissidents and, in many cases, abolished the rule of law. Large parts of the German public expect an apology, or at least a full explanation. But it is not forthcoming.

Länderspiel Deutschland - Saudi Arabien | Ilkay Gündogan
Ilkay Gündogan was jeered when he entered the game for Germany on Friday.Image: picture-alliance/GES/M. Ibo Güngör

Erdogan's big coup

Turkey are not in the World Cup, but there's a feeling that Erdogan is going anyway in the shape of a shadow cast over the DFB. Already, he has been able to celebrate a big political coup. More than any demand for election campaigns in Germany, he managed with a few photos to drive a wedge in Germany, the country with the largest Turkish exile community. The persistent whistles against Turkish-born players are likely to push Turks living in Germany into Erdogan's arms. That is exactly what the incumbent will do before the presidential election in Turkey on 24 June. It is time to end this epidode sooner rather than later, so that Germany can look again towards the World Cup.

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Joscha Weber Bonn 9577
Joscha Weber Editor and fact-checker focusing on separating facts from fiction and uncovering disinformation.@joschaweber