‘We are not politicians’: Zlatan reopens LeBron row by warning that ‘politics divide people’, calls out the media over Tiger Woods

‘We are not politicians’: Zlatan reopens LeBron row by warning that ‘politics divide people’, calls out the media over Tiger Woods

Football badboy Zlatan Ibrahimovic has reopened his row with NBA legend LeBron James over his social justice campaigning and named golfer Tiger Woods as an example of the pitfalls of putting sports stars on pedestals.

Sweden icon Ibrahimovic originally ripped into James in February, saying he hugely admired the "phenomenal" LA Lakers talisman while warning that high-profile figures should resist speaking about politics and "do what you’re good at doing."

James, who has vociferously used his considerable clout as arguably the world's most famous basketball player to speak out in support of campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, retorted that he would "never shut up about things that are wrong" and vowed to "preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression – things that go on in our community."

Now Ibrahimovic has spoken about the superstars' difference of opinion again. "I said that we are not politicians," the Milan striker told Get French Football.

"Politics divides people. Football, in my world, unites people. Big difference. Because I have had the chance to meet and get to know people that I would never have known if I did not play football."

"I have met people from all four corners of the world. We unite people. Politicians divide. If I wanted to be a politician, I would do politics.

"We should only do what we’re good at. Sports and politics are two different categories. If you are intelligent, you understand.

"Whether I take a position or not is not a question," he answered, when asked if he was scared to adopt a stance on the matter.

"It relates to what you do and what message you want to send. Us, footballers, we produce love and joy. You cannot bring your politics into the world.

"I am not here to send a bad message to people. I am just here to unite, spread love and joy. This is the best means we have to do it: football or sport. Because we are good for that. I am good for that. I am good at football."

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NBA star Lebron James (left) and football veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic © Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports via Reuters | © Daniele Mascolo / Reuters
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As James battles racism and prejudice in the US, Zlatan was asked whether racial discrimination still exists in Sweden and why he didn't always identify as Swedish as a half-Bosnian, half-Croatian youth.

"When I was little, I did not feel Swedish. Because they made me feel like I was different. I was treated differently, judged differently, looked at differently…" 

"That is why I did not feel 100 pecent Swedish. I was made to feel that. But if they had me feel like one of theirs, I would have looked at myself as 100 percent Swedish.

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"But today, I say it: I am 100 percent Swedish. When I was young, I thought about it differently, but now, older, I have experience, I am 100 percent Swedish. I represent [the] new Sweden. It is the world now. In France, it is the same.

"[Racism] still exists, of course. Everywhere in the world. There will always be ignorant people. Even though we are here to share love and joy on this Earth and in what we do best.

"Me, I play football. I don’t play a game outside of football to spread this love. My best way of spreading this love is with my football. That is all."

Zlatan rebuffed suggestions that he wishes to "be liked by all now"

"I just want people to recognise when I do something well. To be loved or hated… I want to say, what is love? Tell me.

"Those people who are close to you, that, that is love. The supporters, for example. Let’s take those at Inter [Milan, his current club's arch-rivals], for example. When I was there, they loved me, when I left, they no longer loved me. So, what is love?," he asked.

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Zlatan spoke on James' political activism. © Reuters / USA Today Sports
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Confirming that family is love, Zlatan went on: "When you do something good, you are loved. And then, all of a sudden, you are no longer loved. Is that love?

"No. I do not need to be liked. I just want people to be fair and appreciate what I do if I do it well. But that is part of a more global thing.

"I am not seeking love like those who participate in certain charitable causes for people to say about them: 'Wow, he is a good guy.' That is fake. If I do something, it is because I want to.

"Nobody will know about it. I do it with my heart. But some people, they do it with their head. They do charity so that we say about them: 'F*ck, he is a good guy. He sent money to a hospital, he sent money for Covid-19.' I do it, but I do not talk about it. Big difference.

When asked if that issue is the "worst part of football", Ibrahimovic replied: "But it is part of the world right now.

"People want to be perfect. They want to build an image, like: 'Wow!' In the end, they will all be caught up by reality. We will know who they really are."

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NBA star LeBron James and footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. © Reuters
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Ibrahimovic highlighted the plight of former golf world number one golfer Tiger Woods, who was found to have had an extra-marital affair."Look at Tiger Woods. He was supposed to be the most perfect man on the earth," he said.

"Be yourself – don’t try to play yourself and be someone who you are not. Otherwise, in the end, you will pay.

"If you want to do it, you do it. Don’t do it because someone has told you it is good or that it will help or make you perfect.

"That is simply manipulation. I do not want to be involved in manipulation. What you see on my social media, that is real life. One person. Not two."

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