Chinese state television today preempted the scheduled Arsenal-Manchester City match in favor of a replay after Arsenal’s Mesut Özil released a statement of support for Chinese Muslims.
Özil’s statement comes in the wake of leaked documents detailing China’s forced internment of around 1 million Muslim citizens in the Xinjiang province.
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019
Özil’s statement, translated in part via Reuters:
Ozil’s posts called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticized both China’s crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response.
“(In China) Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” Ozil, who is a Muslim, said in his posts.An Arsenal spokesman told Reuters that they had no official statement on the issue after CCTV’s decision to show a taped game between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers instead of the originally planned fixture.
CCTV did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China’s reaction obviously calls to mind the NBA’s issues with the Chinese government this year after Daryl Morey tweeted and then deleted a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Arsenal ended up releasing a statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo:
Arsenal on Saturday tried to distance itself from Ozil’s comments after he posted messages on Twitter and Instagram.
“The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
Clearly this is going to be a continuing story across multiple sports; as more teams and leagues make forays into China, athletes are going to speak out more and more on issues like this one. Whether China’s issue with Arsenal escalates further as it did with the Morey situation is certainly worth monitoring; the Premier League, for example, has a rights deal on par with the NBA’s in China.
As for the match itself: Özil started, but was subbed off after 60 minutes in a 3-0 Arsenal loss.