West Ham’s Michail Antonio has questioned why there are calls for team-mate Kurt Zouma to be sacked for abusing his cat when footballers have been allowed to play after being found guilty of racism.
France international defender Zouma, who played against Watford in the Premier League on Tuesday, has been widely condemned after a video emerged of him dropping, kicking and slapping his pet.
Zouma, who has apologised, is under investigation by animal welfare charity RSPCA and his two cats have been taken into the care of the organisation.
West Ham have fined the 27-year-old “the maximum amount possible”, understood to be about £250,000 ($340,000).
Nearly 300,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Zouma to be prosecuted as the public backlash intensifies in a country renowned for its love of animals.
Zouma got a taste of the depth of feeling as he was relentlessly booed by Watford supporters this week, with even West Ham fans joining in some of the jeering.
But West Ham forward Antonio, during an interview with Sky Sports News, said while he did not condone Zouma’s actions, he felt there was a need for a wider debate.
“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?”
On Wednesday Adidas — Zouma’s official personal kit supplier — said it had cut ties with the defender.
Insurance and investment company Vitality confirmed it was suspending sponsorship as West Ham’s official wellness partner and another sponsor, Experience Kissimmee, has ended its sponsorship of the London club.
The reaction has also been strong in France, with animal rights groups condemning Zouma’s behaviour.
The SPA animal welfare charity said the defender should never play for France again in a letter to the French Football Federation (FFF), seen by AFP.
FFF president Noel Le Graet said it was “obviously a shocking act of mistreatment.”
“This gratuitous, stupid and nasty act of violence appears all the more astonishing since I have never heard anyone speaking badly of Kurt Zouma. On the contrary, he is a boy known to be respectful,” Le Graet told AFP.
Zouma’s brother, Yoan, who filmed the video of the cat abuse, was suspended by his English team, fifth-tier Dagenham and Redbridge, on Thursday.
The east of London club said the defender had been contacted by the RSPCA to assist in their investigation and was “fully cooperating” with them.
It added: “The club has… decided that until the RSPCA has completed its investigations, Yoan will not play for Dagenham and Redbridge in any competitive match.”