China’s state broadcaster CCTV has removed Sunday’s Arsenal-Manchester City game from its schedule after comments made by Gunners midfielder Mesut Ozil, state media has reported.
Ozil posted on social media about the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China.
Arsenal distanced the club from the German’s views, saying it was “always apolitical as an organisation”.
The Global Times described Ozil’s comments as “false” and claimed he had “disappointed” football authorities.
In addition, the Chinese Football Association said Ozil’s comments were “unacceptable” and had “hurt the feelings” of Chinese fans.
CCTV will now show Sunday’s game between Tottenham and Wolves, instead of a live broadcast of Arsenal’s home match with the reigning Premier League champions.
In his social media post Ozil, who is a Muslim, called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China and the silence of Muslims in response.
China has consistently denied mistreating Uighur Muslims in the country.
Rights groups say about a million people – mostly from the Muslim Uighur community – are thought to have been detained without trial in high-security prison camps.
China says they are being educated in “vocational training centres” to combat violent religious extremism.
In October, the US National Basketball Association suffered financial losses after an online comment from a team executive prompted a crisis in its relations with China.
Houston Rockets’ manager Daryl Morey had tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
As a result, Chinese firms suspended sponsorship and telecast deals.
Robin Brant, BBC China correspondent in Beijing
A few weeks ago I asked someone who is an expert on China-UK relations if the Premier League could face an ‘NBA moment’ if or when a player criticised China in public.
English football’s top flight is such a global phenomenon, so diverse in its range of players, so vast in its audience spread.
The answer to my question was clearly yes.
The NBA’s crisis in China showed how serious and how immediate the impact on commercial interests could be.
So important is football to the UK and its soft power that very senior British diplomats have pondered the impact on UK China relations of something like this.
The reaction to Ozil’s comments appears more muted compared to Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong support.
China’s state machinery went after the NBA, not just the man and club. On this occasion it’s targeting Ozil and to a limited extent Arsenal.
Any lasting damage here is likely to be sustained by him personally. Although there will also be some praise and support. You just won’t hear about that in China’s state-run media.
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