West Ham forward Michail Antonio has questioned whether Kurt Zouma’s mistreatment of his cat is “worse than racism”.
he 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.
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 270,000 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?’
Zouma and West Ham are co-operating fully with the RSCPA-led investigation.
The RSPCA said it had been dealing with the issue before the video went viral and would continue its investigations.
“We’re grateful to everyone who expressed their concern for these cats,” a statement from the animal charity said.
“We were dealing with this issue before the video went viral online and are leading the investigation. We continue to investigate so we cannot comment further at this time.”
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”.
After the video emerged and Zouma played against Watford, the Hammers’ official destination partner Experience Kissimmee said it would evaluate its relationship with the club.
On Wednesday, the tourist board for the Florida city subsequently announced it had decided to terminate the partnership.
President and chief executive of the tourist board DT Minich said: “Due to recent events, Experience Kissimmee has made the decision to part ways with West Ham United Football Club and end our sponsorship of the team.
“As an organisation and community, we welcome visitors and locals alike to join us in celebrating wildlife and nature, now and always.
“We are proud to work with partners who are accredited, certified and regulated to the highest standards of animal care.”
In France, animal rights group the 30 Million Friends Foundation condemned the “heinous act” and called for Zouma to be suspended from the national team.