A potential sponsorship deal between FC Cologne and a Chinese betting company has broken down. This follows the continuing backlash in China against Mesut Özil after his comments about the plight of the Uighur people.
Bundesliga club Cologne have been left to foot a bill after a sponsorship deal with a Chinese betting company was put on hold. According to Cologne newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, the loss is in the region of €1.5 million ($1.66 million). The club declined to comment but confirmed that the potential partners from China had withdrawn.
Cologne had halted a joint project with the Chinese club FC Liaoning for a youth football academy based on the German model in December. "The board and management decided not to do this project given the current sporting situation," said Werner Wolf, president of the club since September 2019, at the time to the newspaper.
'A surveillance state'
Former Cologne interim president Stefan Müller-Römer, who had already returned to the position of head of members' council at the time, had welcomed the decision and denounced what he saw as large scale human rights violations in China.
"A total surveillance state is being built there that George Orwell could not have imagined," said Müller-Römer. "Cologne cannot support a totalitarian and brutal dictatorship," he added. The club leaders immediately distanced themselves from these statements and declared that this was the private opinion of the former interim president and not the official stance of the club.
The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger now reports that, in response to Müller-Römer's words, China have threatened to cancel TV coverage of the next Bundesliga matchday, the value of which is believed to run into millions of euros. The German Football League (DFL), according to the newspaper, then let Cologne know that in this case they would contact the club.
Both Cologne and the DFL have denied this, with the latter sending a statement to DW: "According to Mr. Müller-Römer, there was no reaction from China towards the DFL. Accordingly, our Chinese media partner of the DFL did not threaten to reduce the license payments - so there was no basis and no reason to further burden the corresponding loss of earnings of 1. FC Köln."
Tensions with China
This is not the first time there have been tensions between China and the west concerning football and perceived insensitivities towards China.
In December 2019, Mesut Özil spoke out against the plight of the Uighur people in China, while criticizing Muslim countries for not addressing China's treatment of the Muslim minority group in the west of the country. China has been widely condemned after detaining up to a million people, according to human rights groups, in high-security camps in Xinjiang, northern China, a policy aimed at homogenizing the group to reflect the country's Han culture.
As a result, Özil's name is still not mentioned by commentators during Arsenal matches and he has been airbrushed out of China's coverage of Arsenal, who have a strong following in the country.