Kurt Zouma was selected and played for West Ham in their clash against Watford on Tuesday evening – despite the defender being under police investigation for kicking his cat – prompting boos from opposition supporters.
The French defender was condemned by his club, the RSPCA, and other animal welfare groups after a video emerged of him dropping, kicking and slapping his pet cat.
Despite the widespread revulsion towards the 27-year-old player’s actions, Hammers boss David Moyes stuck with him for Tuesday’s match.
When asked before kick-off if the video played any influence on his decision to start Zouma against Watford, Moyes told BT Sport: “No, because he is one of our better players. But it is certainly ongoing and the club are dealing with it, so that is a separate matter.”
At one point during the match, Zouma stumbled on the pitch with Watford fans reportedly chanting in response: “That’s how your cat feels.”
Meanwhile, in an unrelated turn of events, a cat ran out onto the pitch during a League One match between Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan Athletic on Tuesday evening, temporarily causing havoc with a player escorting the animal off the pitch.
The decision to play Zouma has been widely criticised.
Wildlife presenter Chris Packham said: “Tonight some humans decided that it was more important to allow a man who kicks defenceless fragile animals the opportunity to kick a ball for entertainment.
“Worse they granted him an acquittal from the responsibility that should surely accompany a sportsman.”
Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden added: “Oh… West Ham didn’t step up then??”
In the video, shared online, Zouma is seen drop-kicking his cat, chasing it around a room and slapping it out of another person’s arms, all while laughter can be heard in the background.
Yet tonight some humans decided that it was more important to allow a man who kicks defenceless fragile animals the opportunity to kick a ball for entertainment . Worse they granted him an acquittal from the responsibility that should surely accompany a sportsman . . .
— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) February 8, 2022
After the clip emerged, West Ham were among those to criticise his actions – and said they were “dealing with the matter internally”.
Zouma, who joined the club in August 2021, released a statement apologising for his actions and expressing his regret.
He said: “I also want to say how deeply sorry I am to anyone who was upset by the video. I would like to assure everyone that our two cats are perfectly fine and healthy.
“They are loved and cherished by our entire family, and this behaviour was an isolated incident that will not happen again.”
However, Essex Police have said they are investigating the incident, alongside the RSPCA.
The animal welfare charity said it had received “lots of messages on social media” about the incident.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “This is a very upsetting video and we’d like to reassure the public that we are investigating.
“We cannot comment further at this time but we’re grateful to everyone who has brought this to our attention.
“We have received lots of messages on social media and our other channels, so we’re urging people to only contact our national cruelty line (0300 1234 999) if they have new or first-hand information.”
The video was captured by Zouma’s brother, Dagenham & Redbridge defender Yoan, who has also been condemned by his club for filming the video and for “his reactions to the events shown”.
“I am now taking time to reflect on what I have done but wish to assure everyone that this was an isolated incident and not something that I am proud of,” Yoan Zouma said in a statement.