Football should follow Mesut Ozil’s lead and stop supporting sportswashing

Regardless of whether you like Mesut Ozil or not, whether you think he is a waste of space on the pitch and we should get rid, we should all be standing with him over his comments about China.

On Friday, Ozil posted a message on his criticises China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

The treatment the Uighur Muslim minority in western China has been labelled as the ‘atrocity of the century’ with reports that up to 3 million people are being held in “modern day” concentration camps.

Leading Uighur activist Rushan Abbas described the situation back in 2018.

“[It is] not just the 3 million people in the concentration camps facing mental and physical torture, forced intense indoctrinations, forced medications, food and sleep deprivation, [but] even the people at large … living outside, are facing a complete surveillance police state.”

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between one million and two million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.

The first Uighur camp was built in 2014, and much of the world has turned a blind eye to what is happening. Most of the world are actually unaware of what is happening, with countries across the globe continuing to do business with China in the same way they were doing business with Germany in the late 1930s, despite the first Nazi concentration camp being built in 1933.

It has taken Ozil’s Instagram post to bring the plight of the Turkic ethnic group into the world domain.

Posting the words against the backdrop of the flag of the short-lived East Turkestan republic, an area that is now Chinese-controlled Xinjiang, he called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China’s crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response. “(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,”

In response to Ozil’s comments, China’s state broadcaster CCTV pulled the broadcast of Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City.

Ozil has seen his China-based “M10” fan club shut down, his social media accounts blocked and almost all trace of his name removed from Chinese search engine results.

Several Chinese football fan sites have said they will stop posting news related to Ozil, according to the Shanghai-based publication The Paper. A Chinese football simulation game said it would no longer produce Özil player roles or cards.

Fans in China have labelled Ozil a “dirty ant” and posted videos of them burning his shirts.

In a comment that has since been deleted, the editor of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, accused the footballer of essentially calling for global jihad against China. Asking Özil to provide examples of his allegations, Hu wrote: “This man is full of nonsense. Does he just want to encourage global jihad, using Xinjiang as an excuse?”

Ozil has been brave standing up to what he clearly feels are human rights breaches that are currently being ignored by the global community.

China’s record on human rights is one of the worst in the world. Like many other countries with poor records, they have been attempting to use sport to improve its reputation in something that is known as sportswashing.

From the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing through to Qatar 2022, sportswashing is becoming more common as authorities and clubs put aside their morals and values to sell their sport to the highest bidder.

Last weekend saw the world title heavyweight clash between anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s relatively sudden interest in sports can be construed as a soft power tactic to help distract from the kingdom’s ongoing human rights abuses and the Yemen crisis.

The kingdom has hosted the Race of Champions (ROC) motorsport event, secured a long-term deal with the WWE that includes multiple shows a year, hosted boxing events headlined by stars like Amir Khan, hosted a PGA European Tour golf event.

Azerbaijani is another nation using sport as a distraction from what is actually happening in their country.

Despite human rights infringements, a lack of press freedom, a clear threat of terrorism and Azerbaijan being labelled as “not free”; the likes of UEFA, the IAAF and the FIA have all awarded Azerbaijan major events in recent years, including the recent Europa League final.

Back to Ozil and China, clubs across Europe have turned a blind eye to human rights issues for a long time. They chase money agreeing to play friendlies in China, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.

Every club should now stand with Ozil over his comments. Stand with the Uighur Muslim’s, stand with those who have been detained, killed elsewhere across the globe for having a different religion, race or sexuality.

Amnesty International recently called for “clubs – the coaches, players, and backroom staff – to use their considerable influence to press for greater recognition of human rights.”

Ozil is in the right highlighting a human rights issue in China. Imagine how much more powerful the message would be if, following China’s boycott of Arsenal, the Premier League stood together as one and boycotted China.

No more selling TV rights to the country, no more holding money-spinning friendlies there. Not until they have sorted themselves out. Cleaned up their act. Stopped detaining millions for simply following another religion.

Standing together will not happen, however.

Take a look at Manchester City. Current Premier League champions.

The City Football Group, who own the club, Abu Dhabi United Group and a consortium of Chinese state-backed investment firms. Are they really going to take a stand against what is happening in nations across the globe when they are owned by those states committing the atrocities?

Until clubs and the authorities grow a pair and stop selling themselves to the highest bidder, it will be up to the likes of Mesut Ozil to bravely stand on his own and speak up for those who have no voice.

Ozil might polarise support on the pitch, but we should stand with him when it comes to speaking up against human right breaches.

I stand with Ozil.


1 thought on “Football should follow Mesut Ozil’s lead and stop supporting sportswashing

  1. jod

    Not disagreeing with you but the situation with Ozil is a bit more complicated than you make out. With his fawning support for Erdogan he presumably exempts the Turks when it comes to human rights abuses. So his stance is stand up for Muslims unless they are Kurds, in which case the Turks can do what they like.



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