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Arsene Wenger Defends Mesut Ozil's 'Freedom of Speech' After China Uighur Posts

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 18, 2019

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger (R) and Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil smile as Arsenal players celebrate their victory over Chelsea in the English FA Cup final football match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley stadium in London on May 27, 2017.
Aaron Ramsey scored a 79th-minute header to earn Arsenal a stunning 2-1 win over Double-chasing Chelsea on Saturday and deliver embattled manager Arsene Wenger a record seventh FA Cup. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has defended midfielder Mesut Ozil following the backlash he's encountered after recent comments regarding the alleged treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China. 

Gunners midfielder Ozil—a devout Muslim—tweeted on Friday criticising China, which resulted in state broadcasters removing Arsenal's fixture against Manchester City on Sunday, which they lost 3-0.

Wenger, 70, maintained Ozil doesn't represent his club, though he also said the player's "freedom of speech" permits him to share his views, per BBC Sport:

"What he says is about himself and not Arsenal.

"Mesut Ozil has freedom of speech like everyone else and he uses his notoriety to express his opinions, which are not necessarily shared by everybody.

"What's important is that Ozil has an individual responsibility. He doesn't have to carry the word of Arsenal Football Club. When you make a comment about your individual opinion you accept the consequences of it."

Nick Ames of the Guardian wrote Arsenal distanced themselves from Ozil's comments. The backlash also saw the player removed from video games FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, per James Benge of Football.London:

James Benge @jamesbenge

Chinese pressure on Mesut Ozil builds. He has been removed from Pro Evolution Soccer games in China after his statement last week. Publisher NetEase says his comments "hurt the feelings of Chinese fans and violated the sport's spirit of love and peace" https://t.co/ljLNgYTLK2

Benge lauded Ozil for stepping outside a professional footballer's usual remit by taking a controversial stance in a serious matter. He also criticised former City and Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure for dismissing his opinion:

James Benge @jamesbenge

Really disappointing to see these "shut up and dribble" comments from Yaya Toure. He doesn't have to voice a political opinion but no reason for him to police those who do. Ozil deserves enormous credit for having the courage of his convictions, for using his platform for good. https://t.co/2f1QAHEFbd

Wenger, who now works as FIFA's chief of global football development, signed Ozil from Real Madrid in 2013.

Per BBC Sport, rights groups say around one million (mostly Uighur muslims) have been detained in high-security Chinese prison camps without trial. The report also included comments from Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who praised Ozil's words as "hugely commendable."

Football finance writer Kieran Maguire recently appeared on Love Sport Radio and suggested Ozil's views could have an impact on his career prospects moving forward:

Love Sport Radio @lovesportradio

💰 Football finance expert @KieranMaguire thinks that whoever Mesut Ozil's next club is will have to think about the financial implications of signing him after his twitter post about China. #AFC 📻 Tune in - Now on National DAB 📲 Listen - https://t.co/XWhRQh9myF https://t.co/ySV2uDPG4W

The 2014 FIFA World Cup winner was left out of Arsenal's team for much of this first half of the season, although he's since started their last seven Premier League games in a row.

United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, showed support for Ozil (or rather against China) via Twitter:

Secretary Pompeo @SecPompeo

China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor @MesutOzil1088 and @Arsenal’s games all season long, but the truth will prevail. The CCP can’t hide its gross #HumanRights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.

Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, responded to Ozil's post by saying the German had been "deceived by false news reports," per Sky Sports.

The Gunners travel to Everton on Saturday in their next Premier League fixture, but Ozil may not be involved at Goodison Park after a hectic week of buildup.