Football has a high sociopolitical significance. The discussions in recent days underline that. Mesut Özil’s decision to step down from the Germany national team has triggered a debate about racism in general and about football’s capabilities for integration in particular. As DFB president, I do not wish to shy away from this debate.
Our performance at the World Cup called many things into question. I of course ask myself what I could have done better during that time. I won’t pretend that this personal criticism hasn’t affected me, but I feel even more sorry for my colleagues, the many volunteers at grassroots level and the staff at the DFB, who have been linked with racism. It’s something I firmly reject for both the association and myself personally.
The DFB’s values are also my own; diversity, solidarity, anti-discrimination and integration are all values and beliefs that are close to my heart. During my time at the DFB, I have been able to experience just how much football can do for integration, and I am very proud of the efforts the DFB, the regional associations and each and every club puts in.
We live our values. That is why we, as the DFB, questioned the photo with Turkish president Erdogan. I very much regret that this has been misused for racist slogans. Looking back, as president I should been unequivocally clear about something that is a given for me as a person and for us all as an association: any form of racial hostility will not be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. That was the case for Jerome Boateng, that is the case for Mesut Özil, and it is the same for any player at grassroots level that has a migrant background.
In a conference with my colleagues from the regional associations and the presidential board speaking to representatives from the amateur and professional scene, we defined a clear approach for the DFB, which has three central topics. Firstly, we need to use this ongoing debate about integration and how it currently resonates in society as an opportunity to further develop our work in this field and to ask ourselves where and how we can add fresh impetus. Secondly, following the disappointing World Cup campaign, there needs to be a profound sporting analysis from which we need to draw the right conclusions that will allow us to play exciting, successful football again. That is a task for the management, and we have given them the necessary time to do it. Thirdly, we all have the common goal of our of EURO 2024 bid being successful. We will work together with complete dedication over the coming weeks and months to make that happen.
The tournament can write a whole new story for football, bringing children into clubs and bringing people closer together, both with and without migrant backgrounds – united by football.