Mesut Ozil removed from PES 2020 in China after criticising government

Mesut Ozil Arsenal football player

Football’s a funny old game, but if you criticise China’s governmental policy on social media, it becomes far less funny. Mesut Özil, Arsenal star player, posted on Instagram and Twitter a robust criticism of China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang as well as the silence this treatment has elicited. As translated by the Guardian, the post reads: “[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 addition, he described the Uighurs in Northern China as “warriors who resist persecution”. Rights groups currently state that up to a million Uighurs are currently detained without trial in Northern China. China, for its part, states that this is not the case and that they are being re-educated in “vocational training centers”.

The backlash has been swift, with Chinese fans of the club seeking Özil’s firing, burning Arsenal shirts in protest and heavily posting on social media. Arsenal, of course, distanced itself from Özil’s comments, though this has done little to dampen the flames.

Now, as reported by the BBC, the Chinese version of PES 2020 will be modified to remove the 31 year old Mesut Özil from the game. NetEase, the publisher in China, stated that “The German player Ozil posted an extreme statement about China on social media,” before going on to state “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.”

This comes at the end of a tumultuous year for China and video games, with the largest gaming story of the year involving a pro-Hearthstone player being removed from Hearthstone tournaments by Blizzard after showing support for the Hong Kong protests, a move that drew attention even from mainstream media outlets as protests against Blizzard took root across the gaming sphere.