Soccer Star Wiped from Video Game in China over Uyghur Comments

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil warms up at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England, April 24, 2019. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil will be deleted from the popular soccer game eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 over critical comments he made regarding China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, NetEase — which publishes the PES franchise in China — confirmed Wednesday.

In a statement on Chinese social-media platform Weibo, NetEase said “The German player Ozil posted an extreme statement about China on social media. 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!”

Konami, the Japanese developer of PES games, has yet to comment on the situation. PES hit over 200 million downloads for its 2019 version of the game. According to estimates, China accounts for approximately 25 percent of the global mobile gaming market —with 598 million players and $15.63 billion in revenue for 2018.

Ozil, a German Muslim with Turkish heritage, tweeted Saturday in the buildup to a game with Manchester City, calling the Chinese “persecutors trying to separate” Uyghurs “from their religion.”

Despite Arsenal’s efforts to distance itself from Ozil’s comments —mirroring the NBA’s treatment of Daryl Morey — the match was blacked out by Chinese state television in the Premier League’s most lucrative overseas market after China’s foreign ministry said Ozil was “deceived by fake news.”

Following Ozil’s comments, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted in support of Ozil, saying “the truth will prevail.”

In October, Chinese streaming service Tencent — which drew 500 million NBA viewers last year — announced it would not be showing Houston Rockets games this season after Morey, the general manager of the team, tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Morey later deleted the tweet and released a statement saying he did not intend to offend with “one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event.”

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