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In a world where media hypocrisy related to woke culture is increasingly artificial and trivial, it is rewarding to have a relevant sport figure rise up in favor of a credible, noble cause in need of voices. The Uyghur ethnic group has been systematically persecuted for decades by the Chinese Communist regime, and though many have ignored it, the facts are irrefutable and worrying. Today a world champion footballer raised his hand in defense of this group. He is Frenchman Antoine Griezmann.
To put it in context, last December 8th some documents found by the investigative organization IPVM were revealed. These were published exclusively by The Washington Post. The content of this finding is extremely serious and alarming: the giant technology company Huawei tested a facial recognition software developed by the company Megvii that detected the age, sex and ethnicity of the person using it.
Why is this such a serious matter? Because details indicate that if the system developed by Megvii and tested by Huawei detected or recognized the face of a member of the Uighur Muslim racial minority, it would activate a “Uyghur alarm” and this could reach the Chinese police.
The founder of IPVM – the company that detected the document shared with The Post – John Honovich, explained that this showed how “terrifying” and “totally standardized” this type of artificial intelligence technology -designed for surveillance and sometimes used for persecution- has become.
“This is not an isolated enterprise. This is systematic,” Honovich exclaimed. “A lot of thought went into making sure that this ‘Uyghur alarm’ worked.”
Antoine Griezmann’s powerful announcement
Rarely has a footballer been seen to cut ties so abruptly with a company. And especially in the terms used by the Frenchman.
Griezmann used a short but precise statement, going straight to the point to break ties with Huawei in defense of the Uyghur ethnic minority:
"Following strong suspicions that the Huawei company may have contributed to the development of a "Uyghur alert" through facial recognition software, I announce that I am immediately terminating my collaboration with the company. I take this opportunity to invite Huawei not only to deny these accusations, but to take concrete action as soon as possible to condemn this massive repression and use its influence to contribute to the respect of human rights in society."
While this may seem like a minor “detail” to many, the reality is that it is a very powerful message. Antoine Griezmann is one of the best players in the world; probably in the global top-10 and not out of the top-3 among French players.
“The Little Prince”, as he is nicknamend, was world champion in Russia in 2018 and became one of the figures in Didier Deschamps’ team. A team brimming with pragmatism where the defense-attack transitions, for the most part, made sense thanks to Griezmann’s pitches for Mbappé runs.
Although the Frenchman is not going through the best moment of his career, as FC Barcelona is going through an economic and institutional crisis that has transcended the field, diminishing the collective performance of the team and decimating the performance of several figures, Griezmann continues to be a top player. And his message is one that has had a very strong impact on Huawei.
It is, however, important to mention that Griezmann is not the first footballer to speak out in favor of the Uyghurs and against the persecution of the Chinese regime. Earlier Mesut Özil, world champion with Germany in 2014, ex-footballer of Real Madrid, where he shone, and current player at Arsenal in London, had demonstrated in favor of this Muslim minority group.
A German of Turkish origin called the Uyghurs “warriors who resist persecution.” His criticisms were directed towards the Communist Party of China and those who remain silent regarding the actions and mistreatment against the Muslim group.
China responded to the footballer through state television by taking off an Arsenal match from the broadcast. Özil was also removed from the Chinese version of the video game Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).
A spokesman for Huawei also spoke out about Antoine Griezmann’s powerful statement to the BBC:
“Huawei is obviously saddened by Mr. Griezmann’s decision to end his relationship with the company (…) We would like to extend an invitation to talk to him personally, to explain the work that is currently being done at the highest level, within the company, to address the issues of human rights, equality and discrimination at all levels, and to assure him, and all our clients and partners, that Huawei takes these concerns very seriously.”
But the spokesman’s words can do little in the face of facts, for the leaked information is clear: Huawei collaborated and supported the effort by testing a software with a clear special design to pursue the Uyghurs. Griezmann’s words were a legitimate and laudable defense that explains why, from time to time, soccer transcends the field.