Germany football federation (DFB) president Reinhard Grindel admitted mistakes in the handling of Mesut Ozil's national team status but rejected the player's allegations of racism, saying he has been stung by the criticism following the midfielder's retirement from international competition.
Ozil announced his withdrawal from the national team on Sunday, citing what he believed was racist treatment by the DFB regarding his Turkish heritage and accusing Grindel of failing to support him throughout Germany's participation in the World Cup.
But Grindel, in a statement released by the DFB on Thursday, expressed regret that the photo Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan took with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London in May had been used to further racist purposes.
"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," Grindel said. "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," Grindel said. "... 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 Ozil, and it is the same for any player at grassroots level [who] has a migrant background."
Grindel said that after consulting with DFB officials, he wants to use the incident as a way to learn how to better connect with people from different backgrounds to improve the Germany national team and make the federation's bid to host Euro 2024 successful.
"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," Grindel wrote. " ... [Hosting] 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."
Meanwhile, Germany's parliament speaker added his voice to criticism of how the DFB handled the Ozil case.
"I still don't understand why people at the DFB allowed such an affair of state to be made out of such an ill-advised photo action," Wolfgang Schaeuble told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. "It's a shame."