Arsenal players are being encouraged to engage in activism but the club’s chief executive Vinai Venkatesham disagrees with the idea that commercial interests came first when they distanced themselves from Mesut Ozil’s attempts to raise awareness over mistreatment of the Uighur Muslim community in December 2019.
Ozil, who joined Fenerbahce last month, posted on his personal Instagram that Uighurs were “warriors who resist persecution” at a time when the United Nations reported millions were being imprisoned by Chinese authorities.
In a hurried attempt to pour water on the controversy at the time, Arsenal said that it was merely Ozil’s “personal opinion” and that the club “has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
Asked if concerns over financial repercussions in China was behind Arsenal, Venkatesham told the FT Business of Football conference: “I don’t think that’s fair to say. That’s how it was reported but it’s not fair to say we took a commercial view.
“We were asked for comment around the situation, particularly in China, and our position was to say it was a statement a player made in an individual capacity. Commercial wasn’t a driver behind that, it was about Mesut making a statement in his individual capacity.
“At Arsenal we want to enable players to have a voice and speak as individuals. Sometimes they do that as part of club messaging, sometimes as individuals. As an example, in the middle of the George Floyd issue the players came to us and said they want to make a stand and send a message out.”
Venkatesham also spoke of his concern regarding online hate crimes with Eddie Nketiah the latest Arsenal player to have been racially abused on Twitter.
“This has to be a wake up call,” he said. “It’s increasingly becoming normalised and in 2021 we can’t be having a conversation about it becoming normalised. I’m not saying it’s simple, easy with a silver bullet to solve it but players and social media companies need to come together.
“It’s a moment in time and if we don’t make progress I worry about the path we’re heading on. We need the support of social media companies here.”