Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham has denied that commercial interests came before backing former player Mesut Ozil when he attempted to raise awareness over mistreatment of the Uighur Muslim community.
The German, who moved to Fenerbahce last month, spoke out in December 2019 and posted his feelings on Instagram.
Ozil said that Uighurs were “warriors who resist persecution” at a time when the United Nations reported millions were being imprisoned by Chinese authorities.
The Gunners chief wants the club’s players to speak out and encourages them to do so.
But when Ozil did the north London outfit were quick to distance themselves from his comments.
Arsenal said at the time that it was Ozil’s “personal opinion” and that the club “has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
But Venkatesham has denied that their comments were due to fears of a financial backlash from China, where the Gunners enjoy a healthy backing.
He 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.”