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'Ozil must be congratulated for speaking out about racism'

RACISM: 'Ozil must be congratulated for sticking his head above the parapet'

"I AM German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

I am sure many players – past and present - can relate to that statement from Mesut Ozil.

The verbal chastising of those with dual heritage is, unfortunately, not new.

It’s as sad as it is telling that sentiments such as this from Ozil are all too familiar. It resonates as much in 2018 as it did during the 1970s.

When a player is on form, they are “one of our own”. But the moment they are not, you can expect to see disparaging descriptions next to their name, with a clear reference that they are “not from round here”.

In many cases, players of dual heritage are born, raised and educated in the country they represent. They are natives.

In Mesut Ozil’s case, he pays taxes, donates to good causes in Germany, and was a key member of his country's 2014 World Cup-winning side.

Even if a player doesn’t play a crucial part in a World Cup win or performance, the mere fact a player decides to represent one country and not another should say it all.

However, in some circles this is clearly not enough.
No player should ever have their loyalty to their country questioned because of their dual heritage. Nor should they ever feel they can’t embrace their roots.

But, unfortunately, these players are normally the first to be singled out for criticism when things don’t go well on the pitch – and sometimes off it. That criticism regularly seems to be a bit more scathing for them than it is for their teammates. It’s something we see time and time again.

Another reoccurrence is how not enough is done to tackle this prejudice.

An underhand - and frankly pathetic - response from Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness to Ozil’s comments shows football is not ready to confront the reality that racist attitudes still prevail in the sport.

Hoeness chose to ignore the clear message of the Arsenal star’s statement and instead attack him for “playing dirt for years”.

Hoeness said: "He last won a tackle before the 2014 World Cup. And now he hides himself and his c*** performance behind this photo.

"Whenever we played against Arsenal, we played over him, because we know he's the weak point".
What’s more, a tweet from the official FIFA World Cup account in the wake of Ozil’s statement made no reference to the midfielder’s grievances, choosing only to mention his retirement.

World football’s governing body has taken a “nothing to see here” approach to serious accusations of ill-treatment at the hands of a football authority which it oversees.

What message do these actions send out about tackling racist attitudes? Or to those thinking of speaking out?

Not for the first time, the uncomfortable truths have been brushed under the carpet. People have been distracted from the real issue at play, and I’m sure some have also been put off coming forward to speak out.

Ozil must be congratulated for sticking his head above the parapet and speaking candidly about his experiences of racism and biased leadership at the top of football.

He exercised a right most football players don’t think they have – the right to stand up to discrimination and use their position to force positive change.

Many players in England and around Europe will empathise with his declaration that enough is enough and he will not put up with it any longer. And, why should he or anyone else?

For too long some players have not been treated fairly or with respect and dignity, owing to factors including their nationality, religion and skin colour.

Those at the top of the game – in England and elsewhere – should reflect on their maltreatment over the past four decades and consider issuing formal public apologies for the hurt and pain inflicted though biased and ignorant views and actions.

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