An authentic player who does not look for publicity or credit is the best description of New Zealand rugby Muslim superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
The New Zealander star has recently become the highest-paid rugby star after signing for transatlantic rugby league side Toronto Wolfpack.
Converting to Islam more than 10 years ago, he regularly speaks about his faith, and support for Muslims, including the plight of Uyghur Muslims.
For example, in December 2019, Williams tweeted: “It’s a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity.”
Speaking for the first time about the issue, Williams told Sky News he had been a longtime and vocal supporter “of our brothers and sisters in China”, adding that he is “only embarrassed I don’t speak up enough.”
“They are in the detention camps over there and facing disgusting injustices,” he continued.
“For myself, I just speak my truth. Sometimes I get it wrong but in this instance, I definitely know I’m not.”
Williams said: “Sometimes you can speak your truth, whether that can get you offside with people or not.
“But I’ve always been one to stand up, not just for myself, but for what I feel is right – and in that situation, that’s all it was.”
His message echoed an earlier one issued by Arsenal playmaker Ozil who stated that more countries should speak out against China’s reported actions of detaining Uighur people in “re-education camps”.
The country reacted by taking Arsenal matches off state television and deleting Ozil from video games.
Nevertheless, Williams said he wouldn’t be deterred by a potential backlash.
“You think you know what is hard, what is pressure, what are tough situations,” he said.
“But then, take yourself out from where you are. We wake up every day and we can do what we want. But there are people around the world that can’t even eat, that have to watch out for bombs being dropped on their heads.”
Williams continued: “When it comes to that situation of being able to speak up as a sportsman, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I don’t speak up enough.
“That’s not just as a Muslim, but that’s as a human as well. You know, there are many atrocities going on around the world that you know you can’t even fathom. So here we are, and we are just trying our best.”
Decades of Persecution
Many refer to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — home to many ethnic minorities, including the Turkic Uyghur people — as East Turkestan.
The country has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenizing the Uighur population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.