BERLIN, Oct 10 (Reuters) Germany's government said today that politics should play no role in sports after an Iran-born player on Germany's under-21 national soccer team declined to travel to Israel for a match.
Ashkan Dejagah, a 21-year old who plays for German side Wolfsburg, sparked outrage by telling a German newspaper this week he would not travel with the national team for the match in Tel Aviv for political reasons.
German politicians have called for Dejagah, who holds both German and Iranian passports, to decide where his loyalties lie.
''The Interior Minister is of the opinion that each player who is nominated for the national team must be willing to play in any country with which the German Football Association has sporting ties,'' a ministry spokesman said today.
''Political reasons must not play a role.'' Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has refused to recognise Israel's right to exist and Iranian citizens are forbidden to travel there.
Dejagah's withdrawal from the European Championships qualifier against Israel has been a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, where good relations with Israel are a top priority because of the Holocaust.
At a press conference in Berlin today, national team manager Oliver Bierhoff expressed sympathy for the young player, but also made clear that playing for Germany carried certain responsibilities.
''We want our players to identify with the team and our country,'' Bierhoff said. ''If they can't then I don't think the player should have a role on the team.'' He added: ''I don't think the young man was aware of the political implications of his decision.'' The German Football Association has said Dejagah, who was born in Tehran, withdrew from the match because he fears hisfamily in Iran will suffer reprisals if he travels to Israel.
A spokesman for Wolfsburg denied a report that Dejagah had been suspended by the Bundesliga team.
Reuters BJR DB2029