- Official statement only published in Chinese as Premier League club distances itself from German star’s views on Xinjiang
- NBA was launched into full-blown crisis in China after Houston Rockets GM’s pro-Hong Kong protest tweet
Arsenal, long described as a "crisis club" by the British press, have added a new definition to the term.
The Gunners have been struggling on the pitch, replacing beleaguered Spanish manager Unai Emery with former player Fredrik Ljungberg.
The poison of social media has spread to the Emirates Stadium, where fans queue up to demand sackings and new signings on the cameras of viral video Arsenal Fan TV.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, their best player, has developed a relationship with AFTV that the club disapproves of. He told the club via social media he will talk to who he wants to.
Finally a reason to smile again … a little bit! That winning feeling is back. How i've missed you!! But of course we all know that there's still a lot of work in front of us #YaGunnersYa #M1O #COYG Arsenal
[Now, on top of that, the fan favourite who should be the club's star man, German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, has used his social media to wade into Chinese politics.
Arsenal star Mesut Ozil faces backlash in China after attacking human rights abuses in Xinjiang
Ozil, a German of Turkish descent, spoke out about the treatment of China's Uygur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang. The Muslim community there have reportedly been victims of state oppression that has sparked international outrage.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Mesut Ozil (@m10_official) on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:37am PST
[He posted on his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, writing in Turkish.
"East Turkistan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion," the message read.
"They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men."
BREAKING: FIFA open disciplinary proceedings against Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka following their goal celebrations during Switzerland's win over Serbia on Friday. #SSN pic.twitter.com/EJ3mXD6qP5
" Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) June 23, 2018
[Ozil's post got more than 280,000 likes on Instagram but none will have been from the Arsenal boardroom. The Gunners swiftly released a statement to distance themselves from their No 11.
"Regarding the comments made by Mesut Ozil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement," it said.
"The content published is Ozil's personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics."
Mesut Ozil's letter is far more offensive to Chinese authority than Daryl Morey's 'free HK' tweet, which could be interpreted in different ways. More than expressing opinions of the situation in Xinjiang, he showed support of East Turkestan, an extremist separatist group. pic.twitter.com/wdehUBcsqd
" Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) December 14, 2019
[By "not involving itself in politics", they have done the opposite. It's all the more unusual because Ozil was not the only Arsenal player to speak out this week. His teammate Hector Bellerin put forth his views ahead of the UK general election on Thursday.
The Spanish full-back wrote on Twitter urging people to vote. "Young people across the world have a chance to change what the future can be. Today's the chance for all the British people to influence what your future and those living here holds," he wrote.
He ended the tweet with "F***Boris" and "GoVote" hashtags. Arsenal said nothing.
Young people across the world have a chance to change what the future can be. Today's the chance for all the British people to influence what your future & those living here holds. #FuckBoris #GoVote pic.twitter.com/epHbI3sdNw
" Hector BellerIn (@HectorBellerin) December 12, 2019
[Ozil's opinions are not always popular. His backing of controversial Turkey premier Recep Erdogan led to a backlash in Germany that ended with Ozil quitting the national team amid claims of racism.
But he is opinionated, a rarity in the world of modern football where players are as drilled in media training as they are in tactics. Still, Arsenal have never felt the need to respond before.
It's interesting that this response by the club was published in Chinese and on their Sina Weibo account.
My art on Ozil @MesutOzil1088 speaking up against China's persecution of #Uighurs in Xinjiang. He wrote: Qurans are burned, Mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, Madrasahs were banned, Religious scholars were killed one by one.#MeTooUyghur #ConcentrationCamps pic.twitter.com/j4AFPFSqJ1
" 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) December 14, 2019
[Arsenal are not alone in having explicit interests in the country but they are unique in opening an expanding chain of restaurants for their Chinese fans. Ozil's post could literally be bad for business.
That's perhaps why they felt the need to speak out on this and not on Bellerin, nor on Kosovan-Albanian Swiss international Granit Xhaka's controversial "eagle" celebration that angered Serbia at the last Fifa World Cup, nor on Ozil's history with Erdogan.
The club will surely be thinking of the tweet that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey sent about Hong Kong in the summer, a tweet that kicked off a crisis for the NBA that is still ongoing two months later. The NBA has taken a hit in the pocket, while the English Premier League has arguably even more at stake.
Day #11 of our Arsenal advent calendar.Day 1️⃣1️⃣ @MesutOzil1088 Ozil 11 > Ozil 10, the Ozil bounceHow many players have a skill named after them? #AFCpic.twitter.com/a3z2WP98tC
" Gunners.com (@Gunnersc0m) December 11, 2019
[They are in the middle of a three-year US$700 million broadcast deal with Chinese online firm PPTV, its biggest overseas deal.
This could be much worse than the NBA crisis. Xinjiang is arguably even more contentious for Beijing than Hong Kong protests. There was no immediate reaction from Beijing but the reaction to Ozil's Instagram post on Chinese social media has been as expected with fans expressing their anger and disappointment.
Users of both Chinese and Western social media have pointed out that Arsenal have not published their statement anywhere other than on Weibo.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the best man at German footballer Mesut Ozil's wedding on Friday. The 30-year-old arsenal midfielder married his fiancee, former miss Turkey Amine Gulse in Istanbul. pic.twitter.com/xw32wvGayu
" ANews (@anewscomtr) June 8, 2019
[Does that mean they only distance themselves from his comments in China or that the club are only definitively apolitical inside the PRC? Did they think no one would notice? Either way it's not a good look for Arsenal.
We will see if ratings in China are hit when the club play Manchester City on Sunday. The champions know how difficult it is to get it right with China, and they have still got it wrong despite being part owned by Chinese money.
It is a delicate balancing act once you try to play the game and you can be sure this one won't end 1-0 to the Arsenal.
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