By Samindra Kunti
December 18 – German Bundesliga’s FC Koln has taken a political stand over China’s human rights abuses, withdrawing from a €1.8 million deal to run a football academy in the country.
Last week, Arsenal saw a Chinese backlash after midfielder Mesut Ozil posted on Instagram criticising China’s treatment of the Uighur population in its north-western region. Chinese state television pulled live coverage of Arsenal’s Premier League game. Arsenal has a strong following and sponsor support in China and it is unclear whether there will be commercial repercussions following Ozil’s comment.
FC Koln, one of the Bundesliga’s most traditional outfits, has no such concerns in pulling out of its planned Chinese academy, with a member of the club council saying they could not support “such a totalitarian and brutal dictatorship”.
Koln’s president Werner Wolf told the local paper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that the club wouldn’t proceed with the project “in the current sporting situation”.
Club council member Stefan Müller-Römer was similarly unequivocal saying: “I understand that Germany can’t completely get by without China and that there is an exchange between the two countries but we don’t need China in sport and I stand by that.
“In China human rights are being massively disregarded. A complete surveillance state is being built, one worse than even George Orwell could have imagined. I have followed developments in China for more than 20 years and I have been there several times. I know what I am talking about.”
He added: “That is why I am of the opinion that 1 FC Cologne should not be active there. Making money at any cost is not an option for me. Apart from the fact that it is questionable whether it is possible to make money there, there are more important things than money. And as a non-profit organisation, that is socially active, we cannot support such a brutal and totalitarian dictatorship.”
FIFA has worked hard to build Chinese commercial links and with European players and clubs starting to take moral and political positions on one of football’s new commercial power players, president Gianni Infantino’s hunt for more Chinese money to support the governing bodies flailing commercial programme will come under increased scrutiny.
China has ambition to host a World Cup with 2030 mooted as one possibility. If it ran with its candidacy it would almost certainly have Infantino’s support and with his vote control of Africa, Conmebol and Concacaf, China would be pretty much a nailed on winner. But the integrity questions for FIFA would undoubtedly be uncomfortable coming on top of the still unresolved FIFAgate controversy surrounding the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 votes that have plagued the world body for almost a decade.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1582857599labto1582857599ofdlr1582857599owedi1582857599sni@o1582857599fni1582857599