State broadcaster CCTV has cancelled a planned broadcast of the English Premier League game between Arsenal and Manchester City on Sunday after Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil commented on the situation of Uyghurs in China. The case echoes that of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who sparked a storm between Chinese broadcasters and fans and the NBA after he posted in support of protestors in Hong Kong.
Özil, who is a third generation Turkish-German, took to Twitter and Instagram in the week to implore fellow Muslims to do more regarding the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and referred to the region as “East Turkistan.” Party mouthpiece The Global Times fired back that, “The advocacy of the so-called stated ‘East Turkistan’ has become a political tool and program for separatists and anti-China forces attempting to split China.”
#HayırlıCumalarDoğuTürkistan ?? pic.twitter.com/dJgeK4KSIk— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019
#HayırlıCumalarDoğuTürkistan ?? pic.twitter.com/dJgeK4KSIk
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019
Arsenal, who count Rwanda among their sponsors and play their football at the Emirates Stadium, posted through their official account to Chinese social platform Weibo on Saturday morning that “the posts’ content is all Özil’s personal opinion” and that “Arsenal as a football club has always adhered to the principle of not getting involved in politics.”
That post picked up more than 25,000 likes, but was apparently not enough to limit the immediate damage to the club, as an official from the Chinese Football Association, “expressed great indignation and disappointment at Özil’s comments,” to The Global Times, continuing that, “Özil’s remarks not only hurt many Chinese fans who pay attention to him, but also hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, which is unacceptable to us.”
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After Özil posted that, “The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men” following international media reports that more than a million people have been detained in camps in the region, major portal Sina Sports directed a Weibo post at him that included a video produced by state broadcaster CCTV entitled Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang.
CCTV’s sports channel will now be showing Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham against Wolves instead, which suggests that a Premier League-wide broadcast ban — similar to that which affected NBA games a few months ago — remains unlikely in China. However, reports in state media suggest that Chinese fans are continuing to clamor for an English-language apology from both Arsenal and Özil personally.
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