English football club Arsenal is feeling the same heat from China that spurred a major controversy for the NBA just months ago, after a well known Arsenal player made comments critical of the nation.
Arsenal player Mesut Ozil recently made comments critical of the treatment of the Uighur minority in China on social media, according to Bloomberg. On Twitter and Instagram, Ozil accused Muslims of staying quiet over the mistreatment of the Uighurs, making himself one of the most public figures to condemn China for their actions.
“Korans are burned. Mosques are closed. Their schools are banned, but the Muslim community is silent,” Ozil said.
The club immediately tried to distance itself from Ozil's comments with a post on Chinese platform Weibo, saying:
“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.”
But that wasn't enough.
In response, China pulled a live broadcast of an Arsenal match against Manchester City off the air. This was despite the club's best efforts to disassociate itself from the remarks. China instead aired a prerecorded game of Arsenal's cross-town rivals Tottenham Hotspur beating Wolves.
Not unlike the NBA controversy, the comments highlight the risks of upsetting the Chinese government. Citizens on social media have also been "swift" in critiquing companies and individuals who "cross the line" when it comes to China's policies.
China's foreign ministry said on Monday that Ozil “seems to have been blinded by some fake news.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a briefing in Beijing:
“What he is not aware of is that the Chinese government protects its citizens’ rights of religious belief, including the Uighur people. He doesn’t know that the measures taken by the Chinese government to counter terrorism have been endorsed and supported by the local people.”
The topic was no longer trending in China on Monday, with Bloomberg predicting this could be a result of web censors discouraging Uighur-related discussion.
Recall, China blacked out some NBA games in October after the Houston Rockets' owner Tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong. The NBA's sponsors in the country cut ties with the league, despite the Rockets' response, which mirrored that of Arsenal.
And its not just sports teams that have come under fire. Recently, retailers like Christian Dior and Dolce & Gabbana have also faced backlash from China over "moves perceived to run afoul of local political sensitivities".