Mentioned in this article
- Mesut Özil has had his character likeness removed from multiple Chinese games in the eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) franchise.
- The Arsenal F.C. midfielder posted a poem on social media denouncing the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China.
- PES is published in China by NetEase. Özil’s appearance in the game is part of a partnership between Arsenal and the game’s developer, Konami.
Mesut Özil, a professional soccer player currently signed to Arsenal F.C., has had his likeness removed from all Chinese versions of PES 2020. A German Muslim of Turkish origin, Özil posted a poem on his social media this week speaking out against the treatment of Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group in China.
The PES series is produced by Japanese conglomerate Konami. NetEase, the series’ publisher for the Chinese market, stated on Wednesday that it would remove the player from all three existing titles. “The German player Ozil posted an extreme statement about China on social media,” the company posted to the Chinese social media site Weibo. “The speech hurt the feelings of Chinese fans and violated the sports’ spirit of love and peace. We do not understand, accept, or forgive this.”
Özil criticized both the Chinese government for its treatment of the minority and Muslim countries for not speaking out on the issue. Arsenal distanced itself from the comments, describing itself in a statement as “apolitical.” The Chinese Football Association referred to the comments as “unacceptable,” and Arsenal’s match against Manchester City F.C. this Sunday has been removed from the schedule of China’s state broadcaster, CCTV.
Since the FIFA soccer video game series retains the rights to most of the sports’ competitions, Konami has partnerships in place with individual teams, which includes digital recreations of respective stadiums, first-team players, and notable former players. Compared to previous games in the series, PES 2020 puts a greater emphasis on online tournaments and is the basis of an esports league—featuring teams from all partner soccer clubs.
This is not the first political controversy focused on Özil. In 2018, he retired from the German national soccer team, after criticism of his public meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the run-up to the country’s elections.
This week’s controversy is the latest tension between the sporting world and the Chinese government. In October, the NBA dealt with the fallout of the general manager of the Houston Rockets posting Hong Kong liberation comments on his social media. In esports, a professional Hearthstone player was suspended from tournaments after shouting his support for Hong Kong in a post-match interview—the suspension was reduced following intense backlash against the publisher, Blizzard Entertainment.
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