Backlash in China over Mesut Ozil's Uighur post

Foreign ministry says Arsenal ace ‘deceived by fake news’ but others come out in support

Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in 2013
Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in 2013
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images )

Football star Mesut Ozil was “deceived by fake news” and “untruthful remarks” in his social media post about the treatment of Uighur Muslims, China’s foreign ministry spokesman has claimed.

After the Arsenal star called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China and the silence of his fellow Muslims in response, Geng Shuang invited Ozil to visit the autonomous Xinjiang region and “have a look” for himself.

Beijing has faced international condemnation for its extrajudicial detentions of more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment and political re-education camps.

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As the backlash in China gathered pace, the state broadcaster removed the Arsenal-Manchester City game from its schedule. The state newspaper, Global Times, described Ozil’s comments as “false” and claimed he had “disappointed” football authorities.

The Chinese Football Association weighed in too, saying Ozil's comments were “unacceptable” and had “hurt the feelings” of Chinese fans.

However, there has also been support for Ozil. After Arsenal distanced the club from their star player’s views, saying it was “always apolitical as an organisation”, many fans protested that the club’s move was a mistake.

The Guardian’s Sean Ingle said the club had raised the “white flag” and argued that Ozil is “in tune with a United Nations panel and human rights groups” on the issue.

Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at Salford University who specialises in China, said: “The world is in the midst of an ideological battle: western liberalism versus eastern authoritarianism. And sport is one of the front lines.”

He added that the controversy over Ozil’s post “reveals a great deal about China’s growing power, how it seeks to exercise it, and what it deems to be acceptable and unacceptable” and also “reveals how far the balance of power has tipped away from Europe and towards China”.

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