West Ham forward Michail Antonio has questioned whether Kurt Zouma’s mistreatment of his cat is “worse than racism”.
The France international defender, who was selected against Watford in the Premier League on Tuesday night, has been widely condemned after a video emerged of him dropping, kicking and slapping the pet.
Zouma, who is under investigation by the RSPCA after his two cats were taken into the care of the charity, has been fined “the maximum amount possible” by West Ham.
West Ham's Michail Antonio has questioned the reaction to Kurt Zouma kicking his cat, asking if it's worse than players convicted of racism. pic.twitter.com/QchAIeXOsT— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) February 10, 2022
The RSPCA swiftly rebuked the “very upsetting” video after it surfaced online and will be leading the investigation while co-operating with Essex Police.
More than 280,000 people have now signed an online petition on Change.org, started by Anti Animal Abuse, calling for Zouma to be prosecuted amid a growing public backlash.
West Ham announced on Wednesday afternoon that the 27-year-old, who has apologised, had been fined two weeks’ wages – reported to be in the region of £250,000 – which will be donated to animal welfare charities.
When asked about the incident during an interview with Sky Sports News, Hammers frontman Antonio said while he did not condone Zouma’s actions, he felt there was a wider debate to be considered.
“I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?” Antonio said.
“I’m not condoning a thing that he’s done, I don’t agree with what he has done at all.
“But there’s people that have been convicted and been caught for racism, and have played football afterwards.
“They got an eight-game punishment or something like that, but people are now calling for people to be sacked, for them to lose their livelihood.
“I’ve just got to ask this question to everyone out there: ‘is what he’s (Zouma) done worse than what the people have done that (were) convicted of racism?’
Update on viral footage of catsWe'd like to reassure people that we're investigating and the cats are safe and in our care. We have been dealing with this since before the clip went viral online and we need to follow the proper legal process and not discuss due to UK GDPR laws. pic.twitter.com/LticInSmpn— RSPCA (England & Wales) (@RSPCA_official) February 9, 2022
Zouma and West Ham are co-operating fully with the RSCPA-led investigation.
Meanwhile, Dagenham have suspended Zouma’s brother following his role in the video, heaping more pressure on West Ham to take tougher action.
Yoan Zouma, 23, who is reported to have filmed the video, will not play for the National League club until the RSPCA has completed its probe.
A Dagenham statement read: “Yoan was this week contacted by the RSPCA to assist in their investigation and is fully cooperating with them.
“However, Dagenham & Redbridge FC would again like to reiterate that it condemns any form of cruelty towards animals and fully understands the reaction of many of its supporters.
“The club has therefore decided that until the RSPCA has completed its investigations, Yoan will not play for Dagenham & Redbridge in any competitive match.
“Any further action deemed necessary to be taken will be made at the conclusion of the RSPCA investigation.”
The cats remain with the RSPCA, the organisation said on Thursday night.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Two cats are in our care, have been seen by a vet and are being well looked after.
“They will remain in our care while the investigation continues and are not available for rehoming although we have lots of beautiful cats who are looking for new homes.
“We understand the high level of interest in this incident and can reassure you that our experienced officers are carrying out a full and thorough investigation.
“Due to the fact that this is a live investigation, we are limited in what we can say, however we will provide updates when we are able.”
National pet charity Blue Cross described the incident as “truly horrifying” and called for Zouma to face prosecution.
On Wednesday afternoon adidas – the defender’s official personal kit supplier – confirmed ties had been cut with the player.
Vitality confirmed it was suspending sponsorship as West Ham’s official wellness partner and would be “further engaging with the club to understand what actions they will be taking to address the situation”.
Meanwhile, the club’s official destination partner Experience Kissimmee, the tourist board for the Florida city, announced the decision to terminate its own agreement.
Experience Kissimmee announced today that it has ended its sponsorship of West Ham United Football Club.— Experience Kissimmee (@Kissimmee) February 9, 2022
French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, 87, described the incident as “absolute cowardice”, with her foundation filing a complaint against Zouma.
Under the French penal code, which applies to citizens committing offences outside of the country, a custodial sentence of up to three years could be handed out along with a fine of 45,000 euro (£37,900).
Former England boss Roy Hodgson feels players need to be aware of the consequences of their actions.
“They have got to realise the scrutiny is so much greater these days with social media and camera phones, so they have got to be aware that if they do want to misbehave, they have a much greater chance of being caught out,” Watford chief Hodgson said.
“It hurts me a little bit when that profession (football) is denigrated in the way that it has been denigrated recently on quite a few occasions by people doing things that are not only totally unacceptable, they are totally illegal.”
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