WARNING: This story contains images which people may find disturbing
West Ham defender Kurt Zouma has been called out by former UFC champion Jan Blachowicz after the former was filmed kicking and slapping his pet cat, with the France international also having attracted criticism from animal welfare groups over his behaviour.
The 27-year-old, who was named in West Ham's starting XI against Watford hours after the footage emerged, has been filmed attacking a Bengal cat in front of his brother, Yoan, with the animal in question seen desperately trying to escape.
Zouma, who drop-kicks the cat at one stage before knocking it out of the arms of a child in another clip and throwing designer shoes in its direction, has issued an apology for his actions and insists the incident in question was an isolated one.
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What has Zouma said?
The Hammers centre-half, who moved to the London Stadium from Chelsea in the summer of 2021, has said: “I want to apologise for my actions. There are no excuses for my behaviour, which I sincerely regret.
“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.”
What has Blachowicz said?
Blachowicz, a mixed martial artist who held the title of UFC's light heavyweight champion from 2020 to 2021, called out Zouma on Twitter in the wake of the defender's actions.
The Pole wrote: "If you are so tough, motherf*cker, try to kick me. What a piece of sh*t. No tolerance for animal cruelty."
Will Zouma face action?
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill of 2021 means that animal abusers now face tougher sentences, with the worst culprits having to serve up to five years in jail.
No charges have been brought against Zouma, but the RSPCA are aware of the online footage.
A spokesperson for the charity has said: “This is a very upsetting video. It’s never acceptable to kick, hit or slap an animal, for punishment or otherwise.”
Dr Maggie Roberts, of charity Cats Protection, added: “Any person seen or suspected of treating an animal badly, whether this is physical violence, neglect or any other form of cruelty should be reported to the RSPCA.
“The police work closely with the RSPCA to investigate cases of animal cruelty. Cats are sentient beings and experience pain and fear. Beating up a cat will only cause it to suffer physically and mentally.
"We noticed that some people viewing the video online thought it was funny. We can assure them that this is not a laughing matter.”
What have West Ham had to say?
The Premier League outfit have condemned the actions of a player on their books, with the Hammers acting quickly after being made aware of the video.
A statement from the east London-based club reads: "West Ham United unreservedly condemns the actions of our player, Kurt Zouma, in the video that has circulated.
"We have spoken to Kurt and will be dealing with the matter internally, but we would like to make it clear that we in no way condone cruelty towards animals."
Despite that condemnation, Zouma was named in the club's starting XI for Tuesday's Premier League clash with Watford.
Speaking to BT Sport about whether the video of Zouma on social media this week influenced his decision to have the French defender start on Tuesday, West Ham boss David Moyes said: "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."
Reaction to starting against Watford
With Zouma having played in Tuesday's Premier League match against Watford, West Ham sponsor Experience Kissimmee – a holiday resort based in Florida – expressed their disappointment in the club's decision to field the centre-back.
The company tweeted: "It was disheartening to learn that the player Kurt Zouma was part of the starting line in West Ham United’s game tonight. As we wait for further information from WHU, we will be evaluating our relationship and sponsorship with the club."
Watford fans also made their voices heard, with a section of the travelling support booing Zouma and chanting "Kurt Zouma, he plays at centre-back, he kicks his f*cking cat".