BERLIN (AP) _ A top member of a rising German nationalist party drew sharp criticism Sunday for reportedly saying that many people wouldn’t want Jerome Boateng, a key player on Germany’s national soccer team whose father was born in Ghana, as their neighbor.
Alexander Gauland, deputy leader of Alternative for Germany, was quoted as telling the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper: “People find him good as a footballer. But they don’t want to have a Boateng as their neighbor.” The newspaper’s front-page headline was “Gauland insults Boateng.”
Germany’s national team has long reflected varied ethnic backgrounds. Berlin-born Bayern Munich defender Boateng has played 57 games for Germany and was a mainstay of the 2014 World Cup-winning team. Boateng is also on Germany’s squad for the 2016 European Championship, which kicks off June 10 in France.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the comment “unacceptable.” He wrote on Twitter: “Anyone who talks like this unmasks himself, and not just as a bad neighbor.”
Anti-immigration talk has helped Alternative for Germany, or AfD, to surge in polls over recent months as hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in Germany. Other parties have struggled to find ways to counter its appeal to protest voters.
In a statement, Gauland said he “never insulted Mr. Boateng.” He said that, in a confidential background conversation, he “described some people’s attitudes” but did not himself comment on Boateng.
“Of course we can be proud of our national team,” he added.
AfD leader Frauke Petry told the Bild newspaper that Gauland couldn’t remember whether he had made the comment.
“Independently of that, I apologize to Mr. Boateng for the impression that has arisen,” she said.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Bild that Gauland’s reported comment “shows that Gauland is not just against foreigners but against the good things about Germany: modernity, openness and liberality.” He called AfD “anti-German.”