The club's behaviour fits into a broader pattern of corporate obeisance to China
Those who enjoy watching Arsenal lose football matches had a fantastic evening on Sunday as visitors Man City cut through them like a knife through butter. If you were in China, however, where some 350 million regularly tune in to Premier League games, you would’ve missed out.
The Chinese state broadcaster pulled the screening of the Gunners’ humiliation after Mesut Özil, one of the club’s key midfielders and a practicing Muslim of Turkish descent, shared criticisms of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs. The footballer had tweeted that: “Korans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned.”
Everything Özil said was true. Beijing has rounded up more than one million Muslims into what human rights group Amnesty International calls “re-education concentration camps”, making it one of the greatest persecutions of the 21st century.
Yet, rather than backing one of their players, Arsenal has moved to distance itself from Özil’s comments. On Weibo, a Chinese social media site, the north London club said the player’s statements were his personal views and that “Arsenal has always followed the principle of not interfering in politics.”
This will come as a surprise to football fans, who just a week before this statement were watching Arsenal players knock the ball about in rainbow laces to support LGBT solidarity. The club also felt no need to interfere after Arsenal defender and notorious Dua Lipa lookalike Héctor Bellerín tweeted “#FuckBoris” as Britons went to the polls on Thursday.
Arsenal’s surrender will be familiar to anyone who follows American sports. Just last month America’s National Basketball Association went through a tumultuous experience of realising it didn’t have the courage to stand up for Hong Kong protesters after Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted support for them.
On that occasion, basketball star Lebron James happily repackaged Chinese propaganda by saying that Morey was “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.”
Now Chinese citizens want the same prostration from AFC, with one commenter on Weibo saying that “it is hypocritical for Arsenal to respond only in China but not in its home country”.
With enough pressure, they’re almost certain to cave. Woke capital, whether it’s social media companies, Hollywood studios, fashion houses or sports teams, always does when faced with actual oppression.