Sportsmen and women cannot and should not be censored. Sometimes, they are the changemakers we need

Since I first found myself, as a high-profile footballer and England international, in the public eye one of the rules I have tried to live by is this: speak from a position of strength. I believe if a player speaks publicly, on any issue, while they are not performing well it will always enrage some fans and the power of their words will be lost. Supporters will think: “Focus on the pitch rather than on your pet cause.” Though some of the people Mesut Özil has angered by posting on social media about China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims won’t care particularly about his form, many will just be happy to have another excuse to criticise him.

It is not the first time Özil has been vocal when his career has not been going well. After last year’s World Cup, when Germany were humiliatingly eliminated in the group stages and he had been the subject of personal criticism for his poor performances and for posing for a photograph before the tournament with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he claimed he had been subject to “racism and disrespect” as he announced his retirement from international football at 29. Again, this brought him more criticism.

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Related: Football claims it’s not political. The Özil affair shows it is - just on the wrong side | Afua Hirsch

Related: Arsenal distance themselves from Mesut Özil comments on Uighurs’ plight

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