German footballers drawn into political row after Erdogan photo

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Two German footballers have been criticised by their national federation for posing for a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Reinhard Grindel, president of the German federation, or DFB, said he recognised the special situation of the players, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who have Turkish roots, but said they had been used by Erdogan as part of a political campaign ahead of elections in Turkey next month.

The pictures, taken in London on Sunday and published by Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, show Ozil and Gundogan smiling next to the president, to whom they presented shirts from their clubs – Arsenal and Manchester City.

Gundogan’s shirt had “With respect for my president” written on it.

“Football and the DFB stand for values that are not sufficiently respected by Mr Erdogan,” the DFB’s Grindel tweeted. “Our players have not helped our integration work.”

Erdogan has played semi-professional football and continues to follow the sport keenly.

The EU has been strongly critical of Erdogan’s government on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in July 2016.

Veteran Greens politician Cem Ozdemir, who has a Turkish background, described them as tasteless and embarrassing.

“Posing with the Turkish president is not exemplary behaviour and is not appropriate for German national players,” said Social Democrat deputy leader Ralf Stegner.

Gundogan later said he had not meant to make a political statement or get involved in an election campaign.

Turkey holds presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, after which a new constitutional system comes into force which hands the president much greater powers than before.

Servet Yardimci, vice president of the Turkish football federation defended the photo.

“We have to be fair, there is no intention whatsoever to get them involved [in a political campaign],” he told a briefing in London on Monday. “They are Turkish but are playing for German national team and I don’t think it’s fair to involve them.”

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