Chinese TV Drops English Soccer Match Over Player’s Political Comments

State broadcaster China Central Television on Sunday dropped its planned live coverage of a soccer match between English teams Arsenal and Manchester City due to the political comments made by one of Arsenal’s players.

Mesut Ozil, a German midfield player of Turkish origin, used social media to criticize China’s practises in Xinjiang province, which has a majority Muslim population of Uighur-Turkic origin. Western media have criticized China for use of detention camps to hold over one million Uighurs. China has denied that these are prison camps, describing them instead as vocational training establishments and part of its efforts to fight separatism and terrorism.

Using Instagram and Twitter, Ozil called the detained Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution.” He also criticized the Chinese government, and the governments of Muslim nations who have done little to address the issue.

Arsenal, a club based in North London, quickly attempted to distance itself from the often controversial player’s comments, and to minimize damage to its reputation in China. It used Chinese social media platform Weibo, on which it has 5 million followers, to say: “The content published is all Ozil’s personal opinion. Arsenal, as a football club, has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

That tactic was quickly shown to have failed. The Chinese state-owned tabloid newspaper The Global Times said that Ozil’s comments were “false,” “unacceptable” and had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”.

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On Sunday, CCTV dropped its coverage of the match, replacing it instead with a pre-recorded game between English teams Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers.