SINGAPORE: Arsenal are already facing repercussions after one of their star players made critical comments about the treatment of the Uighur minority in China.
China’s state-run CCTV will no longer show a live broadcast of the match against Manchester City this weekend, despite Arsenal’s attempt to disassociate themselves from the remarks.
Instead, it will show a prerecorded game between Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal’s local rivals, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
This comes months after an NBA general manager’s defence of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong led to a backlash from China.
Arsenal will now look to see if the comments from Mesut Ozil will lead to further consequences.
In Instagram and Twitter posts, Ozil accused Muslims of staying silent over the mistreatment of the Uighurs, 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 Muslim player, who is often seen praying on the field, “but the Muslim community is silent”.
The club responded with a post on 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 have always adhered to the principle of not involving ourselves in politics.”
Arsenal may have been attempting to protect themselves from any bitter response from China, a country with at least 187 million football fans, based on Nielsen estimates.
The Gunners, who also operate a sports bar and restaurant in China, announced plans in early 2019 to expand their chain as they seek to grow their fanbase in the region.
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 NBA games in October after Houston Rockets’ 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 NBA’s sponsors in the country cut ties with the 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.