SHANGHAI—China’s state broadcaster CCTV on Dec. 15 removed Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule following Mesut Ozil’s messages that criticized the country’s policy toward its Muslim Uyghur minority.
The Global Times newspaper said on its Twitter account on Dec. 15 that CCTV made the decision after midfielder Ozil’s comments on Dec. 14 had “disappointed fans and football governing authorities.”
“[In China,] Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” Ozil, who is a Muslim, said in his posts.
An Arsenal spokesman told Reuters that they had no official statement on the issue after CCTV’s decision to show a taped game between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers instead of the originally planned feature.
CCTV did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Arsenal on Dec. 14 tried to distance itself from Ozil’s comments after he posted messages on Twitter and Instagram.
“The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
The club’s Twitter account didn’t have a post addressing Ozil’s comments as of the morning of Dec. 15.
Replies to Arsenal’s Weibo post were angry, with one showing a shredded Ozil soccer jersey next to a pair of scissors and others demanding he be expelled from the club.
A search on Weibo for the hashtag translatable as “Ozil issues inappropriate statement,” which had been one of the top trending topics on the platform, returned no results on the afternoon of Dec. 14.
Weibo frequently censors discussion of sensitive topics, particularly amid a push by Beijing to do so.
The Chinese Football Association told the government-backed news outlet The Paper, on Dec. 14, that it was “outraged and disappointed” by Ozil’s remarks, describing them as “inappropriate.”
The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uyghur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang.
By Andrew Galbraith