CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, did not air the English Premier League game between Arsenal and Manchester City on December 15 following controversial posts on social media from Arsenal player Mesut Özil.
The German Özil posted criticism of China’s persecution of Uighur Muslims. Writing about the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang, the player said: “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.”
While the post has been branded as “fake news” by China’s foreign ministry, the United Nations estimates that between 1-2 million people have been detained in harsh conditions in the region as a part of a so-called anti-terrorism campaign. The majority of these are believed to be Uighur Muslims, though the state has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
As a result of this post, and the subsequent backlash from the Chinese Football Association and on the heavily censored social media platform Weibo, CCTV decided to show a taped game between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers from earlier in the day in its place.
Arsenal distanced itself from the player’s comments, issuing a statement that said: “The content he expressed is entirely Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
It currently is unclear when Arsenal matches will once again be shown in China, though the club’s fear of losing out on shirt sales, broadcast money and any potential commercial deals will likely inform its moves.
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