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STATE-OWNED China Central Television (CCTV) pulled a broadcast of Arsenal v Man City from its schedule yesterday after Gunner Mesut Ozil criticised the treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in the country.
The broadcaster instead aired a rerun of the tie between Arsenal’s north London rival Tottenham Hotspur and Wolves following the player’s criticism.
Posting on his social-media accounts on Friday, Ozil — who featured in the starting 11 against Manchester City — called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China and what he described as the silence of Muslims on the issue.
“Korans are burned, mosques were closed down, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one … Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” Ozil said.
Rights groups claim about a million people — mostly from the Muslim Uighur community — have been detained without trial in high-security prison camps in China.
China has consistently denied that Uighur Muslims are mistreated in the country and says its camps, which it denies hold so many detainees, are a necessary bulwark against Islamist terror.
Arsenal had sought to distance itself from the player’s comments, posting to the Chinese social media site Weibo: “The content expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
The Chinese Football Association told government-backed news outlet The Paper on Saturday that it was “outraged and disappointed” by Ozil’s remarks, describing them as “inappropriate.”
“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,” a CFA official said.
Arsenal player Hector Bellerin recently won plaudits for sharing a political tweet using “#FuckBoris” and “#GoVote” on Twitter before the election — a statement not condemned by his club — but tensions between China and sports organisations have been high in recent history.
In October Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey of the NBA tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong, leading Chinese organisations — including CCTV — to suspend sponsorship and TV deals for the team.
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