ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Two German international football players have been criticized by the German Football Association (DFB) for having their pictures taken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Players Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündoğan posed for a photo with President Erdogan on Sunday during the Turkish leader’s visit to London in the United Kingdom where he met with Prime Minister Theresa May.
Head of the DFB Reinhard Grindel said in a statement that the players had been “manipulated” for Erdogan’s elections campaign in the upcoming snap polls to be held in Turkey on June 24.
“Football and the DFB defend values which are not fully taken into account by Mr. Erdogan,” Grindel wrote in a tweet. “That’s why it’s not good that international players allow themselves to be manipulated for his electoral campaign.”
“In doing that, our players have certainly not helped the DFB’s work on integration,” he added.
Özil, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League, and Gündoğan for recently crowned champions Manchester City, were joined by another Premier League player, Everton’s Cenk Tosun, himself a Turkish international.
According to German online publication Welt, another player, Emre Can of Liverpool, declined an invitation to attend the PR event with Erdogan.
The photos sparked angry reactions from social media users and even the German national team’s kit manufacturer, CSU, who criticized the players for meeting with the Turkish President.
“Those who wear the jersey of the national team should be committed to the values of our country and not to campaign for despots that restrict the freedom of the press and human rights,” they wrote in a tweet.
Turkish Football Federation (TFF) Vice-President Servet Yardmici, meanwhile, said Erdogan’s meeting with the players was football related and not intended on bringing the footballers on board his election campaign.
“I have to make it clear they are not part of our campaign, and there is no intention of bringing them into our campaign,” Yardmici said, describing the meeting as “football chatting.”
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, tweeted photos from the meeting on their official Twitter page.
Cumhurbaşkanımız Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, çeşitli temaslarda bulunmak üzere gittiği İngiltere'nin başkenti Londra'da Premier Lig'de oynayan Türk futbolcu Cenk Tosun, Türk asıllı futbolcu Mesut Özil ve Türk asıllı futbolcu İlkay Gündoğan'ı kabul etti. pic.twitter.com/X3ZY8wwCsa— AK Parti (@Akparti) May 14, 2018
Shortly after Turkey called for snap elections, the governments of Germany, Netherlands, and Austria announced in April that they were against Turkish parties holding election campaigns on their soil targeting Turks of dual citizenship.
Relations between Berlin and Ankara remain strained due to German refuge to dissident Turks and Kurds as well as accusations of “Nazism and support for terrorists” leveled against Germany by Erdogan.