Antonio’s remarks come after more than 270,000 people signed a petition calling for Zouma to be prosecuted over a video which showed him smacking his cat across the face and kicking it along the floor.
Zouma has had his cats taken away by the RSPCA after footage emerged of him smacking one of them across the face and kicking it along the floor.
Essex Police and the RSPCA said they were carrying out “urgent enquiries” as the video attracted widespread criticism from those inside and outside of football – with sponsors having cut ties with both Zouma and West Ham United.
The RSPCA is leading the investigation into Zouma while co-operating with police.
Zouma issued a statement saying there were “no excuses” for his behaviour and he was “deeply sorry” if the video upset anyone.
Sky News understands the defender was fined £250,000, the “maximum possible amount”, by West Ham after the footage emerged.West Ham United Supporters’ Trust has said it was not “impressed” by Zouma’s selection for the game – and suggested the player should be made to “see the consequences of his own actions”.
Responding to the public backlash, Antonio told Sky’s Milena Veselinovic on Thursday: “I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?
“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?'”His comments came as a Change.org petition calling for Zouma to be prosecuted surpassed 270,000 people on Thursday morning.
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.
Adidas, which was Zouma’s official personal kit supplier, confirmed it had cut ties with the player on Wednesday afternoon.
Vitality has confirmed it is suspending sponsorship as West Ham’s official wellness partner, and Experience Kissimmee, the club’s official destination partner, has ended its relationship with the East London side.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 RSPCA 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.
Zouma and West Ham are co-operating fully with the RSCPA-led investigation.
In a statement sent to Sky News apologising for his actions, Zouma 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.”
Kick It Out CEO Tony Burnett said on Friday comparisons with racism were “wrong” and “not helpful”.
“Zouma’s behaviour was clearly unacceptable and I’m sure the RSPCA will thoroughly investigate and update the public in due course,” he said.
“We have seen some people draw comparisons between animal cruelty and discriminatory abuse. Both are wrong and it is not helpful – victims are not in competition with each other.”
He added: “Footballers are public figures, who aspiring players and fans look up to, and some of the behaviours we are seeing aren’t setting the expected standard… Clubs and the football authorities should also support players to set the right standards of behaviour by addressing incidents like this appropriately.”