Sonny Bill Williams has tweeted his support of the minority Uyghur ethnic group, mirroring the stance of soccer star Mesut Ozil 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 Uyghurs.
In his tweet on Monday, Williams echoed the belief of Arsenal playmaker Ozil – who is also a practising Muslim – that more countries should speak out against China’s reported actions of detaining Uyghur 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.
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) December 22, 2019
Williams’ tweet comes a month after he signed a lucrative deal with Canada-based Super League club, the 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 Kiwi, 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 Ozil’s actions.
The German midfielder was also removed from a Chinese-produced soccer computer game.
Rugby league doesn’t have the same presence in China as soccer 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.