BEIJING: Chinese state media warned Monday that Mesut Ozil‘s criticism of the country’s treatment of its Uighurs will have “serious implications” for Arsenal, stirring a backlash that saw the English football club’s weekend match pulled from Chinese TV.
A Global Times editorial slammed what it called a “clownish performance” from Mesut Ozil, describing him as “confused” and “reckless” and saying he had abused his position as a public figure.
Mesut Ozil, a German national of Turkish origin, condemned China’s crackdown on Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang in a tweet on Friday and criticised Muslim countries for failing to speak up about the alleged abuses. Arsenal has distanced itself from his comments.
The row, which has potential repercussions for Arsenal and the Premier League in the lucrative Chinese market, follows the opprobrium heaped on basketball’s NBA in October after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
The response to Ozil’s criticism has been swift in China. On Sunday, state broadcaster CCTV pulled the live Premier League game between Arsenal and Manchester City from its programming.
Leading streaming service PPTV also appeared to have cancelled its screening of the match, which Arsenal lost 3-0.
In its editorial, the Global Times — one of the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpieces — accused the 31-year-old Ozil of being “a person who is confused, reckless in abusing (his) influence, easily incited and willing to incite others”.
“Ozil’s move has ruined his image among Chinese fans and will have serious implications for Arsenal,” warned the newspaper.
“Chinese people should see clearly that what Ozil did this time was a ‘clownish performance’.”
‘Hurt Chinese feelings’
The English-language edition of the Global Times carried a statement from the Chinese Football Association saying that “Ozil’s comments not only hurt his Chinese fans but also hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”.
China has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenising the Uighur population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.
Rights groups and experts say more than one million Uighurs and people of other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been sent to the camps in the tightly controlled region.
Arsenal posted on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, that the comments were “Ozil’s personal opinion”, adding that the club had a policy of “not involving itself in politics”.
“As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
But some Weibo users expressed delight at the team’s heavy home defeat to City, which left the London club ninth in the Premier League.
Ozil played for only an hour before being substituted to boos over his performance in the match.
Uighurs thanks Ozil
Ethnic Uighurs Thanks Ozil for his solidarity.
In Istanbul, kids hold placards with images of Ozil during a protest against China on Saturday.