According to recent reports, China’s football fans were enraged by Arsenal’s star player Mesut Özil, which led them to burn their Arsenal shirts and demanding that the club fires him. The reason behind the outrage is his recent post regarding China’s treatment of Xinjiang-based Muslims.
The fact that Mesut Özil usually remains rather quiet on social media brought extra attention to his Instagram post, published last Friday. In his message, he wrote about the Uighurs, describing them as ‘warriors who resist persecution.’
He also wrote that China is burning Qurans, closing down mosques and Islamic theological schools, in addition to banning madrasas, and killing religious scholars. He noted that Muslims are remaining quiet despite such treatment.
The backlash on his comments was quick to follow, and a wave of anger spread throughout the country which was a major fan of Arsenal prior to the incident. China’s foreign ministry responded to Özil’s words as well, noting that he was likely ‘deceived by fake news.’
Meanwhile, one of Özil’s former fans posted on Instagram that his post deeply hurt China’s people, who are struggling to understand how their idol ended up being ‘a rumormonger.’ They continued by calling Özil a ‘dirty ant’ for his decision to attack China. Another former fan wanted to know why Özil couldn’t just focus on playing football? They noted that he, as a public figure, should be aware of the fact that his words have heavy consequences.
Entire China remains outraged
Özil was also called out for his words on Chinese microblog, Weibo, where he had over 4 million followers. Özil is known as ‘272’ on the platform, as the pronunciation of these numbers sounds like his name. However, the platform that once adored the player recently got flooded with videos of fans burning Arsenal shirts that featured his number. Many others admitted that they plan to throw away their own shirts, noting that they were disappointed by the player.
Arsenal itself did not attempt to help out its player. In fact, it did the exact opposite over the weekend, trying anything in its power to distance itself from his comments. However, the move did not help calm the situation, and fans started requesting that he gets fired from the club. At the same time, Chinese football-related websites stated that they will no longer post news about Özil, while one Chinese football simulation game announced that it will stop producing Özil cards or player roles.
Even the Premier League is feeling consequences
Meanwhile, Özil’s words might have even greater consequences, as there is a real possibility that Arsenal – or even the entire Premier League – might end up being punished, just like the Houston Rockets and the NBA were. This happened because the general manager, Daryl Morey, publicly announced his support for the Hong Kong protests.
Since it would appear that China is currently going all out when it comes to blocking or censoring anything Özil or Arsenal-related. In other words, anyone who might still be interesting in following the club or the player, or maybe even the entire Premier League will have to bypass these new censorship levels with anonymity technologies such as the VPN.
The use of a VPN in China has already been a necessity for a lot of people due to the country’s so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’. The Firewall is blocking most of the foreign news sites, social media, streaming services, and alike. However, VPN technology allows users to bypass such blocks and censorship and access this ‘unwanted content’.
Addressing Özil’s words, Geng Shuang of China’s foreign ministry stated that the player should visit Xinjiang and see what the situation is like for himself. Geng insisted that Özil will see a much different Xinjiang from the one he described, provided that he has common sense and can differentiate right from wrong.
It is also noteworthy that Özil wrote his post against the flag of the East Turkestan Republic, which is currently used by independence activists. However, the flag was blurred on all images of the player’s post in the aftermath of the incident. The effects of the entire country’s outrage have already been felt this Sunday, when state broadcaster, CCTV, canceled Arsenal’s Premier League match against Manchester City.
Even the editor of Global Times, Hu Xijin, called out Arsenal’s player for his comments, requesting examples of his allegations. He then wrote that Özil is ‘full of nonsense,’ accusing him of ‘encouraging global jihad’ aginst China, while using Xinjiang as an excuse.
For now, it remains unknown as to how the current situation will end, or whether or not the damage can be fixed in any way. The threat of a major sporting event’s blackout in China, however, seems likelier by the day.