Furore over Özil's tweet on Uighur repression

Mesut Özil, who is currently playing for the British football club Arsenal, made headlines on Friday with a tweet in which he criticised China's repressive policy towards the Uighurs. Beijing reacted with a ban on broadcasts of Arsenal games, which prompted the club to distance itself from Özil. Some commentators praise Özil for courageously taking a stance, while others cast doubt on his motives.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

Exemplary courage

Özil's criticism of the persecution of the Uighurs sets a fine example, says The Irish Times:

“China's response to a footballer's tweet about the repression of the Uighur minority shows how acutely sensitive it is to foreign commentary on human rights abuses in Xinjiang province - and underlines how important it is that the rest of the world speaks up loudly on those abuses. In a business - elite football - where players, fearful of upsetting sponsors or supporters, too often shy away even from mild controversy, Arsenal's Mesut Özil bravely used his social media channels to express horror at the mass incarceration of Muslim Uighurs. His employer showed no such courage.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Not interested in human rights

Mesut Özil is being hypocritical, the taz believes:

“Özil is a friend of Erdoğan's. The autocrat was best man at his wedding, at which nationalistic music was played. What's more, Özil never had a problem with the persecution of dissenters or ethnic minorities in Turkey. So it's a curious statement coming from him. He's not really concerned about human rights. His main complaint is that Korans are being burned and mosques and religious schools closed. And his use of the nationalist term 'East Turkestan' [to describe the Uighur region in China] no doubt also pleased Erdoğan. In the course of the racist debate about Erdoğan's photo, the former member of Germany's national football team was often written off as a silly young man, in line with the cliché of the somewhat naive but basically apolitical footballer. This image is obsolete: anyone who writes like this or has such things written is a religious nationalist.”

The Times (GB) /

Sport is geopolitics for Beijing

China's attempt to suppress criticism by individual athletes is unacceptable, The Times rails:

“China will be host to the 2022 Winter Olympics and hopes to land the 2030 Fifa World Cup. It is plainly aiming to become one of the pre-eminent global sporting venues in an attempt to demonstrate its geopolitical influence. International sport has always had a political dimension for Beijing and it is hypocritical for it to try to stifle criticism of its policies by foreigners. China and the Premier League can derive mutual benefit from each other, but not at the price of sportsmen and women having, in effect, to swear a loyalty pledge to the often misconceived and malign policies of the Chinese Communist Party.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

First the feast, then the morals

De Volkskrant columnist Sheila Sitalsing explains why Arsenal is distancing itself from Özil:

“This is the last thing the club needs, especially now that things are going so well with the TV rights for the Premier League, the sale of all kinds of merchandise and its own chain of restaurants in China. ... Héctor Bellerín, a colleague of Özil's, sent tweets on the UK election such as fuckBoris and GoVote. Yet there was no submissive statement from Arsenal. Because that's the way things are: we have more to fear from Xi than from Johnson. And morals won't buy you a hamburger. So you should pay close attention to where the new masters are based and what their priorities are. The export of 5G, hip phones, roads, ports, railways, computers, cars and technology comes with a free world view: one of state repression and censorship, indoctrination and 're-education'.”