BERLIN - Sports and politics sometimes do go together: For the first time ever, a player on Germany's national football team has refused to play in Israel.
Ashkan Dejagah, the young team's striker, who comes from a German-Iranian background, refuses to come to Israel to play against Israel in the Under-21 European Championship qualifying match set to take place on Friday in Tel Aviv.
Dejagah's decision has sparked angered reactions throughout the Jewish community in Germany, in the German political arena and even in the media. "There can be no such thing as a player on Germany's national team initiating a private boycott of Jews," said Dieter Graumann, the vice president of the Jewish community.
"It would be scandalous if Germany's football association does not take punitive measures. If the player has reservations about playing against an Israeli team due to solidarity with a terror regime, he should not be permitted to play in the uniform of the German team."
The political establishment also sounded harsh criticism against Dejagah's refusal to play in Israel. A member of the conservative ruling party, Dr. Friedbert Pflueger, said: "This is completely unacceptable. Sports should not be politicized. A player cannot decide whom he will play against." The popular German daily "Bild" called to throw the player off the team.
'I also feared for my safety'
Dejagah, who plays for the Bundesliga side Vfb Wolfsburg team, provided various versions in an attempt to explain his request to be exempted from the match against Israel. In an interview granted to a local newspaper in Wolfsburg, he said that political considerations stood behind his refusal to play against Israel.
The newspaper also maintained that Dejagah – who was born in Tehran and who still holds Iranian citizenship – said that he also feared for his own safety in Israel. "Everyone knows I am an Iranian-German," he told the newspaper.
On the other hand, the young team's coach Dieter Eilts and the club's management said that Dejagah asked to be relieved for personal rather than political reasons. The striker strengthened this stance Monday when stating: "I ask for understanding of my decision." This is about very personal matters which pertain to my closest family members."
The German Football Association decided to accept Dejagah's explanations and relieve him from playing in the match in Israel.
In an official statement issued by the Association it was reported that the Assciation's president Theo Zwanziger, accepted the coach's decision to relieve the Iranian player from the game, after it was clarified that personal motives prompted his decision.
"Yet despite this" Zwanziger was quoted as saying in an official announcement that, "The principle stance held by myself and the Association is clear: We shall not allow a player on the national team to refuse to play in a game due to political reasons.
"Sports and football have always built bridges in the past. This holds true in everything pertaining to Israel and the relationship between Germany and Israel," he said.