China state broadcaster CCTV removed yesterday’s Arsenal-Manchester City English Premier League game from its schedule because of comments made by Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil on social media platform Twitter on Saturday.
The German player criticised China for the country’s controversial policies towards its Muslim Uighur minority, and other Muslims for staying silent on the subject.
Chinese media outlet Global Times said on its Twitter account yesterday that CCTV made the decision to remove the Arsenal-Manchester City game from its live broadcasts after Özil’s comments had “disappointed fans and football governing authorities”. CCTV showed a recorded game between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers instead.
An unnamed official from the Chinese Football Association said to local media: “Özil’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.” China has denied any mistreatment of Uighurs in the country; critics say it is effectively imprisoning millions of them in ‘re-education’ camps.
The NBA was recently plunged into a similar crisis when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for demonstrators protesting about the role of the Chinese state in Hong Kong.
An array of the league’s official Chinese partners halted business with the league while the NBA’s exclusive digital partner Tencent suspended its coverage of matches. Tencent has subsequently resumed coverage of the league but will not show Houston Rockets games for the foreseeable future. The tweet was reported to have cost the Rockets $25m in sponsorship revenues for the 2020-21 season.
On Saturday, Arsenal released a statement on Chinese social media site Weibo and other platforms claiming the club is apolitical and disassociating itself from Özil’s views: “Regarding the comments made by Mesut Özil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement.
“The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
Comments on Arsenal’s Weibo post from Chinese fans were angry with pictures of shredded Özil jerseys and furious pro-China sentiments.
The Premier League club told Reuters on Sunday that they had no further official statements after CCTV’s decision.