By Paul Nicholson
April 20 – Liverpool’s controversial sponsorship partnership with Tibet Water is refusing to stay out the headlines with a group of 25 English MPs having written to the club asking them to end their deal.
Liverpool signed Tibet Water Resources as their Official Regional Water Partner in China in July 2017. The Chinese water firm mines glacial water from the Tibet mountains and sells via its flagship Tibet 5100 Glacial Spring Water brand throughout China and increasingly in Asia. As part of their sponsorship Tibet Water receive a package of marketing and promotional rights, including digital and social media support and access to players.
The sponsorship has received growing criticism from pro-Tibetan sympathisers with the MPs arguing in their letter the deal “is not consistent with the values promoted in the club, and we are calling on Liverpool FC to terminate the agreement.”
The group of MPs, led by Kerry McCarthy, in their letter addressed to Andy Hughes, chief operating officer at the club, point to Tibet’s “rampant human rights violations, including extra-judicial detentions, disappearances and torture.”
A letter sent by the Free Tibet pressure group to Liverpool owner John W Henry last October urged the club “recognises that the respect for human rights is an integral part of its social responsibility,” arguing that “Liverpool FC’s association with TWRL is certainly not in accordance with this commitment and will be tantamount to endorsing the serious, systematic abuses of the Tibetan people by China; something we are sure you do not wish to do.”
The argument is that Tibet Water is only able to operate in Tibet as a result of China’s occupation of the region – and the human rights violations that uphold it.
The MPs ask the club: “To what extent was due diligence carried out by Liverpool FC prior to the signing of the partnership with Tibet Water Resources Limited?
“Did Liverpool FC have robust policies and systems in place for detecting human rights risks and abuses when carrying out its business dealings with Tibet Water?
“Did Liverpool FC investigate the human rights situation in Tibet and speak with human rights organisations prior to the signing of this contract?”
Football in Tibet barely registers in China, though before its occupation by China it was played with a number of popular teams in Lhasa, Potala, and Drapchi. More recently there has been a semi-professional regional team from Kham that plays in the annual tournaments between the different regions of China.
Some of the players of the Kham team went into exile in India (where the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama sit in exile) and joined the Tibetan National Football Association (TNFA). The TNFA holds headquarters in Dharamsala, the same city where the Central Tibetan Administration of the 14th Dalai Lama is based.
FIFA does not recognise the TNFA.
Liverpool are in a difficult position finding themselves between a political rock and a hard commercial place. With a desire to build fans and sponsorship in China, ending the Tibet Water deal would not sit comfortably with Chinese officials or with the club’s ambitions in the country.
Whatever they decide will be a test of the club’s integrity – a club from a city that passionately prides itself on being inclusive and having strong social values. No better witnessed than through the years of horror from the Hillsborough disaster to the semi-justice now achieved. A long running and country-shaming injustice the Dalai Lama would doubtless understand.
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