Demba Ba calls for Uighur solidarity protest over treatment by China

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Demba Ba
Ba scored 43 goals in 99 appearances for West Ham, Newcastle and Chelsea during his time in the Premier League

Former Premier League and Senegal striker Demba Ba has called on football to condemn China's treatment of Uighur Muslims, whatever the financial cost.

"The Black Lives Matter movement is stronger when non-black people step up for it," Ba told BBC Sport.

"When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?"

More than a million Uighur are believed to have been detained without trial in prison camps on the basis of their faith and ethnicity.

The Chinese government has separated Uighur children from their parents and reportedly forced women to be sterilised.

Footage of blindfolded Uighur prisoners being led on to trains has gone viral while leaked documents have detailed "discipline and punishment" at camps, which former detainees claim include torture.

China, which initially denied the camps' existence, now says they are voluntary schools for anti-extremism training.

"An electric baton to the back of the head" - a former inmate described conditions at a secret camp to the BBC

"I have to try and organise something so football players can get together and, in the meantime, talk about this matter because not a lot of people want to," said ex-West Ham, Newcastle and Chelsea forward Ba.

"I know there are footballers who want to fight for justice, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, any belief.

"As sportspeople, we have a power we don't even know. If we get together and talk, things change. If we stand up, people stand up with us."

The Premier League gave the go-ahead to public shows of support for the worldwide campaign for racial justice, set in motion by George Floyd's death in police custody in the United States in May.

Players from all clubs 'took a knee' before kick-off while player names on the back of shirts were replaced with the slogan Black Lives Matter after a collective request to the Premier League.

Ba is not the first footballer to speak out publicly for the Uighur cause.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil posted on social media in December, highlighting Uighur persecution and calling for solidarity from fellow Muslims.

His club, who have a commercial office and restaurants in China, quickly distanced themselves from Ozil's comments, claiming on Chinese social media site Weibo to be "always apolitical".

Chinese state television pulled Arsenal's match against Manchester City's from the schedules the following weekend while Ozil, whose personal sponsorship deal with sportswear giant Adidas has since expired, was removed from a football console game in the country.external-link

China is the Premier League's most lucrative overseas television rights territory with a three-season deal struck in 2019 earning the English top tier £564m.

Other sports leagues have seen how politically delicate relations with China can be, however.

In October a seven-word tweet from Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey - "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong" - resulted in substantial losses for the NBA as Chinese sponsors and broadcasters cut ties.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver claims he refused requests from several Chinese partners that Morey be sacked.

China's ambassador Liu Xiaoming: "There is no such concentration camp in Xinjiang"

Ba believes players are under pressure to stay silent on the Uighur.

"If there was a financial risk to Black Lives Matter, it would not have happened," he added.

"Arsenal talked about Black Lives Matter but when it was about Uighur lives Arsenal didn't want to talk about it because of the pressure and economic impact.

"When there are financial benefits, some people close their eyes. Money has more value than real values.

"I think clubs put a lot of pressure on players not to get involved but how can you not when you see the injustice with your own eyes?"

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said the league's support for players' anti-racism message this summer does not set any precedent for similar displays being approved for different causes.

"Politics - no. Moral causes - yes, when agreed," he said when asked about the sort of causes that might be sanctioned.

Ba, 35, plays for Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir, but spent three seasons with Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League before leaving in January 2019.

Demba Ba
Ba signed for Shanghai Shenhua on a three-year deal in 2015 and, after a brief return to Turkey, returned for a six-month stint from summer 2018

He says that, beyond having to wait for government-approved days to celebrate festivals, he did not have any problem practising his religion in China.

However, he says his former club have been contacted by Chinese authorities after he spoke out on social media.

He says it is unlikely any of his fans back in China would ever see any Premier League protest calling for Uighur rights.

"They love English football there, but trust me, controlling their people is more important for the government than entertaining them when there is the risk of these protests being seen," he said.

The video Uighur model Merdan Ghappar filmed inside China's detention system

Ba's position has been supported by the Muslim Council of Britain.

"There remains no doubt that the Uighur people are facing ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Chinese government because of their Muslim faith," a spokesperson said.

"The Premier League have allowed for Black Lives Matter to feature on the back of players' shirts, while German clubs have allowed for the Black Lives Matter armband to be worn by players, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter cause - it was the right thing to do.

"Similar consideration should be shown when confronted with the horrors of ethnic cleansing. Maintaining silence in the name of neutrality in situations of injustice has never served humanity well."

Presentational grey line

China's hidden camps

BBCPresentational grey line