Zlatan Ibrahimovic doubled down on his remarks from last week that criticized LeBron James for mixing sports with politics.
The 39-year-old Milan striker spoke ahead of the four-day Sanremo Music Festival that he is set to co-host.
While the Swede clarified that he took no issue with speaking out against racism, he again insisted that athletes do not belong in the political sphere.
“Racism and politics are two different things," Ibrahimovic said. "Athletes unite the world, politics divides it. Everyone is welcome in our environment, it doesn’t matter where you come from and we are doing everything to bring people together. My message? Athletes should be athletes, politicians should be politicians."
The outspoken Ibrahimovic set off a firestorm across two continents last week when he criticized James during an interview with UEFA.
"[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he's doing, but I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time," Ibrahimovic said. "Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football. I don't do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best, because it doesn't look good."
The Los Angeles Lakers star responded to Ibrahimovic on Friday, noting that not only will he not "stick to sports," but that Ibrahimovic has weighed in on political matters himself in the past.
"I would never shut up about things that are wrong," James said. "I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community. Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on, and I know what's going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice. And I'm their voice. I'm their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world."
Ibrahimovic also used his Tuesday press conference to address concerns that his appearance at the festival meant that he wasn't prioritizing football. He is currently out of action with a thigh injury and expected to miss three weeks.
“I’m a professional and anyone who knows me, knows that," Ibrahimovic said. "When I play football I’m only focused on that. I want to help Milan, and to give a lot to Italy for everything that it has given me over the years, not only in football. I had the chance to be a guest at the festival, one of the most important in Italy, and decided to participate."
The Sanremo Music Festival is an annual song contest broadcast across Italy. For the first time in 2021, it will be held without a live audience due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.