Zlatan Ibrahimovic is facing a backlash after taking aim at basketball great LeBron James over his political and social activism.
The Swedish superstar singled out the NBA icon last month for bringing politics into sport, telling him to ‘stick to what you’re good at’ and ‘athletes unite the world, politics divide it’.
He also said, in a way only Zlatan can, ‘I play football because I’m the best… if I talked about politics, I’d be a politician’.
“I like [James] a lot,” the Milan striker told UEFA and Discovery+ in Sweden.
“He’s phenomenal, what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people with a status speak about politics. Do what you’re good at doing.
“I play football because I’m the best playing at football, I don’t do politics. If I’d been a politician, I would be doing politics. This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous: for me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you’re good doing, otherwise you risk doing something wrongly.”
Ex-Man United man Zlatan even reiterated his comments on Tuesday, saying at a press conference for the San Remo music festival: “Athletes unite the world, politics divide it. Our role is to unite the world by doing what we do best.
“Athletes should be athletes and politicians should do politics.”
James is one of the biggest names in global sport. He is one of basketball’s greatest-ever players, a four-time NBA champion, four-time Most Valuable Player, and 17-time NBA All-Star.
He is also one of leading voices against racial injustice in the United States, using his platform to tackle racism, police brutality and wide social injustices across the pond.
James has hit back at Ibrahimovic’s comments, with the Swede even saying in the past that Muhammad Ali was his favourite athlete because of ‘what he did inside and outside the ring’.
“I will never shut up about things that are wrong,” said James.
“I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression – things that go on in our community.
“Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that were going on, and I know what’s still going on because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing and they need a voice.
“I’m their voice and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that might be going on, not only in my community but in this country and around the world.
“I speak from a very educated mind. I’m kind of the wrong guy to go at, because I do my homework.”
And talkSPORT hosts have also responded to the Milan striker’s comments, with former England international Trevor Sinclair saying sports stars who use their platform for good should be ‘applauded’.
“Listen, Zlatan is a superstar and has a right to his own opinion, but LeBron James is a bigger superstar,” Sinclair told talkSPORT host Jim White.
“He’s led a privileged life because of his talent and he sees the injustice around him, not just to do with race but a lot of things going on in the US, and because he’s in a privileged position he feels he can level things up and make a difference.
“I applaud him for rallying for human rights and he’s speaking out about these injustices going on in the US.
“We saw what happened with Black Lives Matter last year; I’m sure he got behind that and is very passionate about that.
“I believe he’s got his own school that he funds to support kids to get education, so he’s doing it for the right reasons. I applaud him for that.
“When sports stars use their name, status and their level of audience to do good – like Marcus Rashford, like Lewis Hamilton and like LeBron James – I think we should commend them. I hope he continues to do that.
“I just feel Zlatan has got involved in something he would have been better staying out of. I think he’s misread this situation, and should just look after himself rather than come out with these statements.”
And Simon Jordan believes Ibrahimovic is better off listening to his own advice, and sticking to what he does best – playing football, not making comments about others.
“I don’t think Zlatan has the right to tell LeBron James what he should and shouldn’t be doing, he can do what he wants and hold his views,” said the talkSPORT pundit.
“I am a massive believer that sports is an entertainment business and is there to entertain people, not to lecture people or to bring issues into the forum of sport that are political or societal.
“There are other spaces where sports stars can use their personal profiles to do that, I’m very much against the pitch and sports arena being used for that.
“But I’m not sure being against racism is a political issue, and I don’t have an issue with LeBron James wanting to advance an opinion or champion a cause.
“I also don’t have an issue with Zlatan not wanting to do that… but perhaps he should mind his own business and get on with what he’s doing.”