SINGAPORE: Premier League club Arsenal has attempted to disassociate itself from critical comments by one of its star players about China, a move that comes months after an NBA general manager’s defence of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong led to a backlash from the country.
In Instagram and Twitter posts, Ozil accused Muslims of staying silent over the mistreatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in China, becoming one of the most prominent public figures to condemn Beijing on the issue.
“Korans are burned. Mosques are closed. Their schools are banned,” said the player, who is often seen praying on the field.
“But the Muslim community is silent.”
The club may be attempting to protect itself from any bitter response in China, a country with at least 187 million football fans, based on Nielsen estimates.
Arsenal, which also operates a sports bar and restaurant in China, announced plans earlier this year to expand its chain as it seeks to grow its fan base in the region.
The club responded with a post on Chinese social media site Sina Weibo, where it has more than 5 million followers, distancing itself from the player’s comments.
“The content published is all Ozil’s personal opinion,” the team said.
“Arsenal, as a football club, has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
A United Nations assessment said tens of thousands to “upwards of 1 million” Uighurs have been detained in China, although the government says it’s fighting separatism and religious extremism.
China blacked out some National Basketball Association’s games in October after Houston Rockets’s General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.
He deleted the message, but China took umbrage and the NBA’s sponsors in the country cut ties with the US league.
Arsenal’s response mirrors the post by the basketball team’s billionaire owner Tilman Fertitta.
More recently, Chinese video-sharing app TikTok suspended, and then later restored, the account of a user after she posted viral videos critical of the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang.