Arsenal match off air amid furor over Ozil’s Xinjiang remarks

By Yang Sheng and Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/15 21:38:39

Chinese fans urge London club not to become another Houston Rockets

Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil reacts at the end of their World Cup Group F match against South Korea on June 27, 2018,  in Kazan, Russia. The defending champions lost 0-2 and failed to make it to the knockout stages. Photo: VCG

English Premier League London-based football club Arsenal's office in China confirmed that the state broadcaster has decided not to air the club's game against Manchester City on Sunday, after Arsenal's Turkish-German football player Mesut Ozil's recent false comments on Xinjiang affairs, which irritated Chinese fans and the country's top football governing authorities.

The Arsenal-Manchester City game was removed from the broadcast schedule of China Central Television (CCTV) on Saturday. 

According to the new CCTV schedule, the Arsenal game was replaced by a replay of Tottenham Hotspur against Wolverhampton Wanderers that kicked off at 10:00 pm on Sunday. London-based clubs Arsenal and Tottenham are bitter rivals.

The Global Times also learnt that China's online sport broadcaster PPTV may also not air the Arsenal-Manchester City game and PPTV's schedule for Monday does not include the Arsenal game.  

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) expressed strong indignation and disappointment over the Turkish-German player's comments. The CFA said in a statement sent to the Global Times on Saturday that the "East Turkistan" that Ozil referred to on his social media accounts is not an ethnic or religious matter, but a matter of separatism, terrorism and extremism, which is being spurned by peace-lovers all over the world.

"Ozil's comments not only hurt his Chinese fans but also hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," the CFA said in the statement.

In his posts on Friday on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Ozil referred to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as "East Turkistan," a separatist term advocated by the UN-listed terrorist organization the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and made groundless accusations and false narratives about China's policies in Xinjiang. 

A Chinese web user said on the Chinese Twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo that "calling Xinjiang 'Eastern Turkistan' in China is just like supporting Nazis in Germany."

Photo: Xinhua

According to the UN website, ETIM was listed on September 11, 2002 as a terrorist organization that has associations with Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. ETIM is not only listed as terrorist group in China, Russia, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries, but also including the US, the UK and the EU, as well as Turkey.

Rob Fawdon, Senior Communications Manager of Arsenal, distanced the club from Ozil's controversial comments, replying to the Global Times on Saturday: "Following social media messages from Mesut Ozil, Arsenal Football Club must make it clear that these are Mesut's personal views. Arsenal is always apolitical as an organization."

Arsenal has a huge fan base in China since Arsene Wenger's era in 1990s. It was the first English soccer club to establish an office in China and it is also a frequent visitor to China during the season break.

Arsenal's Chinese fans also felt the club's response did not go far enough, pressing the football club to punish the player. Some posted videos online, in which they cut up and burnt the No.10 jersey which Ozil wears.

The Ozil incident comes after NBA franchise Houston Rockets' General Manager Daryl Morey's improper tweet over Hong Kong in early October. No Rockets games have been broadcast in the Chinese mainland until now. 

Some fans expressed mixed feelings by comparing the two cases. "We love our country and we also love football, so we hope to get a satisfactory response from the club as soon as possible. Don't make Arsenal another Rockets," said one Chinese web user on Sina Weibo. 

"I feel sorry for Man City's fans tonight [as the broadcasting of the game with Arsenal cancelled in China]. But Arsenal FC could consider selling Ozil and rebuilding the team in the winter transfer window, so it can cut off the connection with Ozil and win back fans in China," said another.

This is not the first time Ozil has had brushes with bad PR on sensitive political issues. When he was in the German national team in 2017-2018, he sparked heavy criticism and anger in Germany when he did not sing the national anthem. He has close connections with senior Turkish politicians and displayed loyalty to Turkey without considering the feeling of Germans. His performance for Germany in the 2018 World Cup in Russia was poor, and he quit the national team soon after.

Newspaper headline: Arsenal game pulled over Ozil’s Xinjiang post

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