Kurt Zouma was named in West Ham’s starting line-up against Watford despite his cat-kicking shame “because he is one of our better players”, according to Hammers boss David Moyes.
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.
Zouma has apologized for his actions while Essex Police have confirmed they are liaising with the RSPCA as part of their “urgent enquiries”.
Yet despite the widespread revulsion towards the video, boss Moyes has controversially stuck with the 27-year-old.
When asked before kick-off if the video had had any influence on his decision to play Zouma against Watford, the Scot 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.”
In the video, Zouma is seen kicking and slapping the cat, while laughter can be heard in the background. The France international then chases the animal before throwing a pair of shoes at it and slapping its head.
Former West Ham player Joe Cole, appearing as a BT Sport pundit, said: “I think it’s a miscalculation by the club – he could have sat this one out.
“But he’s here, he’s starting. It’s an unusual disciplinary matter, I don’t remember seeing animal cruelty within football.”
A statement from Essex Police read: “We are aware of a video circulating on social media relating to an incident involving a cat, which members of our communities may find distressing.
“We have recently been made aware that this incident may have taken place in Essex and we are liaising with the RSPCA. Urgent inquiries are ongoing.”
The RSPCA 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.”
After the clip emerged, West Ham criticized Zouma’s actions.
“West Ham United unreservedly condemns the actions of our player, Kurt Zouma, in the video that has circulated,” the club said in a statement.
“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.”
Zouma, who joined the Hammers from Chelsea in August 2021, has also released a statement, apologizing for his actions and expressing his regret.
“I want to apologize for my actions. There are no excuses for my behaviour, which I sincerely regret,” Zouma 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 behavior was an isolated incident that will not happen again.”
Experience Kissimmee, West Ham’s official destination partner, on Tuesday evening “strongly condemned” Zouma’s actions, with the Florida-based organization stressing on Twitter that it “in no way condones animal cruelty”.
Zouma’s representatives have been contacted for further comment by the PA news agency.
Zouma’s brother, Dagenham & Redbridge defend Yoan, has been condemned by his club for filming the video and for “his reactions to the events shown”.
A Dagenham statement read: “Since first becoming aware of the incident this morning the club has had discussions with Yoan and we will now take some time to consider our response, which we will of course make public in due course.
“However, in the meantime we would like to make it completely clear that we in no way condone any form of cruelty towards animals and take this matter very seriously.”
Yoan Zouma said he “deeply regretted” his actions in his own statement on the club’s official website.
“I deeply regret my involvement in the video that has been widely circulated and unreservedly apologise, not only for my actions, but for the upset and distress this will have caused to so many people,” he said.
“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.”
Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Maheta Molango, speaking about the matter at a parliamentary select committee hearing on Tuesday, said: “It is not for us to discipline him – it is for the employer to discipline – but our role is to tell the player this type of behavior is not acceptable.
“I haven’t seen the video but I read he has apologized, which is hopefully a sign from him that this type of behavior is not acceptable.”
Dr Maggie Roberts, Director of Veterinary Services at Cats Protection, issued a statement which read: “Causing any animal unnecessary suffering is a criminal offense under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. 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.”