December 16 – In an unprecedented move that illustrated the country’s sensitivity over human rights issues, China’s state broadcaster pulled Sunday’s Arsenal-Manchester showpiece fixture from its broadcast schedule after Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil criticised Beijing’s brutal crackdown on ethnic Muslims.
China is the Premier League’s most lucrative overseas broadcast market but instead of showing Ozil featuring in Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat by the reigning champions, it broadcast a delayed recording of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers from earlier in the day.
Arsenal’s interim manager Freddy Ljungberg refused to discuss Ozil’s social media post from Friday which caused such outrage in China.
“The China thing is political,” Ljungberg said, “and I’ll leave that to the club.”
Arsenal, meanwhile, also sought to distance itself from Ozil’s action.
“The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion,” the north London club said. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
As it happened, Ozil was substituted amid jeers from his own fans on the hour mark Sunday, angrily kicking out at his gloves in frustration.
“How he reacts is up to him and I’ll deal with it,” Ljungberg said. “We’ll see what it means for the future but of course we want players to behave the right way.”
Ozil’s social media post denounced the detention of more than 1 million people form the Uighur Muslim community and other minorities. Human Rights groups say they are being held in high-security prison camps in Xinjiang though China counters they are being “re-educated” in “vocational training centres” in order to combat violent religious extremism.
The Chinese Football Association expressed “great indignation and disappointment” at Ozil’s comments, according to the Global Times newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party.
In addition, the Chinese Football Association said the remarks were “unacceptable” and had “hurt the feelings” of Chinese fans. The federation told government-backed news outlet, The Paper, it was “outraged and disappointed” by Ozil’s remarks.
Ozil’s comments are undoubtedly hurtful to the Chinese fans who closely follow him, and at the same time his comments also hurt the feelings of Chinese people. This is something we cannot accept,’ the news outlet quoted an unnamed official from the association as saying.
Ozil’s posts had described Uighurs as “warriors who resist persecution” .
“(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.
The NBA ran into trouble in China when Houston Rockets’ manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The end result was Chinese firms suspended sponsorship and broadcast deals.
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