Sonny Bill Williams has tweeted his support of the minority Uighur ethnic group, mirroring the stance of football star Mesut Özil which drew an angry response from China. Cross-code star Williams may further provoke Chinese officialdom with his social media post, which denounces the treatment of Uighurs.
In his tweet on Monday, Williams echoed the belief of Arsenal playmaker Özil, who is also a practising Muslim, that more countries should speak out against China’s reported actions of detaining Uighur people in “re-education camps”.
“It’s a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity #Uyghurs,” Williams wrote, accompanied by an image illustrating oppression against the Muslim minority group.
Williams’ tweet comes a month after he signed a lucrative deal with Canada-based Super League club, Toronto Wolfpack, having ended a lengthy and successful career with the All Blacks. It remains to be seen if there is a backlash from China against the 34-year-old New Zealander, who hasn’t previously voiced his opinion on such a sensitive international topic.
China’s state broadcaster removed the English Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City from its programming in response to Özil’s actions. The German midfielder was also removed from a Chinese-produced football computer game.
Rugby league doesn’t have the same presence in China as football or basketball’s NBA, which paid a heavy financial price when an official criticised the Chinese government in October. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of protesters in Hong Kong, sparking Chinese demands that he be fired, which were rejected by the NBA.