Ashkan Dejagah 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
An Iranian-born German soccer player's refusal to play in Israel has sparked a public outcry in Germany, with some Jewish leaders calling Tuesday for his exclusion from the German national team.
Ashkan Dejagah, who moved to Germany as a child, pulled out of Friday's game in Tel Aviv - a qualification match for the European Under-21 Championship - citing "personal reasons."
"I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins. I am doing it out of respect. After all, my parents are Iranian," the 21-year-old midfielder told the Berlin daily tabloid B.Z.
The German soccer federation has accepted his decision.
"I have accepted the coach's decision because he explained to me that the player has personal reasons," President Theo Zwanziger said in a statement posted to the federation Web site. He did not immediately return repeated calls for comment Tuesday.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, called Dejagah's behavior "deeply unsportsmanlike."
Germany is "aware of its historical responsibility ... and it would be a big affront if this anti-Israeli behavior would be tolerated," Knobloch said in a statement. "I therefore expect the [soccer federation] to exclude the player from the German national team."
The vice president of the Central Council, Dieter Graumann, told Spiegel Online it was unthinkable for a German national player to wage a private boycott against Israel.
The Israel Football Association refused to comment on the situation with press spokesman Gil Levanony simple saying he did not believe sport and politics should mix.
However, one player made his views known.
"It's a pity that sport and politics can't be separated," Israel Under-21 defender Shay Maimon told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "The player made his decision and there's not much we can do about it. You can't force a player to come to a match."
It is not the first time an Iranian athlete has refused to compete in Israel, a country whose existence the hard-line Islamic regime in Iran has refused to recognize. In recent months, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn international criticism for publicly questioning the Nazi Holocaust and for calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
In 2004, Bayern Munich played a Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv without a key Iranian player who had been warned by his country not to travel to the Jewish state.
The Iranian sports federation had said striker Vahid Hashemian would face consequences at home if he traveled to Israel.
Hashemian's official reason for not attending the game was a back injury.
During the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens, an Iranian judo champion reportedly said he wouldn't fight an Israeli opponent, then claimed he was too overweight for the bout with Israel's Ehud Vaks.
He was disqualified. The International Judo Federation later concluded that he was not overweight.
At the 2001 judo world championships, Mahed Malekmohammadi of Iran did not compete against Yoel Razvozov of Israel.
Allon Sinai contributed to this report