German soccer star Mesut Ozil said on Sunday he would no longer play for the national team because he faced racism and disrespect.
His impassioned statement comes amid a political debate in Germany about an influx of immigrants that has seen a rise of the far right at the expense of traditional parties.
Ozil was a member of Germany’s World Cup-winning side in 2014 and has been voted by fans as the team’s player of the year five times since 2011.
But the creative midfield player faced a barrage of criticism at home for having his photograph taken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in May.
He and Ilkay Gundogan, a team mate also of Turkish descent who also posed with Erdogan, were jeered by some German fans in warm-up games before the World Cup in Russia.
Germany failed to qualify from the group stage of the World Cup in Russia, making their earliest exit from the tournament in 80 years and Ozil was one of the scapegoats for their unsuccessful title defence.
“Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue” he said.
“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” he said.
“I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t,” he said. “I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.”
Ozil, who also plays for English club Arsenal, said German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel had blamed him for Germany’s poor performance in Russia.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil wrote in a statement posted on his Twitter account.
He added he did not feel accepted in German society despite paying taxes there, making donations to German schools and being part of the team that won the World Cup.
Germany is home to some 3 million people with Turkish roots.