Soccer player Mesut Özil is the latest star athlete to become embroiled in a controversy in China, and both the PES and FIFA series are being drawn into the middle of it. NetEase, the Chinese publisher for Konami's PES games, announced today that Özil has been removed from the country's versions of PES 2020 following his recent condemnation of China's internment of Uighur Muslims. A subsequent report added that Özil was removed from FIFA 20 in China as well, but a spokesperson for EA confirms to USgamer that Özil remains in the title.
The Independent reports that NetEase removed Özil from its editions of PES with a statement on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo. "The German player Özil posted an extreme statement about China on social media," the translated statement reads. "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!"
Soccer publication Goal.com reported that Özil had also been removed from the Chinese version of EA's FIFA series as a result of his pro-Uighur statement. When asked for clarification, a spokesperson for EA confirmed that Özil has not been removed from the FIFA games and that the publisher has asked for a correction on the report.
Özil is a star player for one of the world's most popular clubs, so this is no small move. In FIFA 20 alone, Ozil has multiple cards in FIFA Ultimate Team, one of which is quite strong.
Özil posted the statement in question on his Instagram and Twitter on Friday, December 13—in it, Özil decries the Chinese government's detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, a region in the northwest China mainland. A practicing Muslim of Turkish heritage, Özil's comment calls Uighurs "warriors who resist pesecution" and advocates for action from others in the global Muslim community. Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that scores of Chinese Arsenal fans have taken to social media to express their disappointment in Özil in the days since he posted the statement.
Xinjiang is home to approximately 10 million Uighurs, and according to numerous reports reviewed by U.N. human rights experts, more than one million Uighurs are being held in internment camps. Late last month, the Associated Press revealed several classified documents that experts say confirm China is deliberately surveilling, detaining, and attempting to reeducate Uighurs in massive camps.
NetEase, China's publisher for PES, is a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in Guangzhou with products and services not limited to gaming. The company has invested in prominent western developers including Bungie and Quantic Dream—NetEase is also Blizzard's chief partner in China, and issued a condemnation of Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai's pro-Hong Kong comments via a Chinese Weibo account earlier this year.