The ousting of Huawei from the UK has hurt the Xi Jinping authoritarian regime a little too much and as a way to show its dissent, Chinese state broadcaster on Wednesday did not telecast the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea, where the former was handed the trophy for winning the league.
With one final round of matches due to be played on Sunday, the matches no longer appear on the CCTV programme schedule, instead, they have been relegated from the main channel to one that lures fewer viewers. The match was shifted to CCTV 5+, a high definition channel regarded as the broadcaster’s secondary sports offering.
Scheduling on the broadcaster’s main website shows a match between Leicester City FC and Manchester United will be shown on the HD channel Sunday local time, but the game isn’t listed in the programming for the main CCTV 5 channel.
It’s still not clear if the blackout was intentional or not but one thing is clear that the lucrative world of professional soccer is being ensnared in the increasingly fraught relations between Beijing and London.
The move, however, didn’t have any effect on streaming platforms as the Liverpool-Chelsea match aired on Chinese video app PPTV.
PPTV, a division of Suning Holdings had signed a three-year deal worth $700m (£564m) with Premier league in 2016 to air the matches. Some of those rights were sub-licensed to CCTV which has now blacklisted the event.
Football lies at the heart of Xi Jinping’s plan to transform itself into a world leader. China has invested heavily in the Chinese Super League to bring it at par with the major footballing leagues across the world. But off late, the Chinese Super League has become a retirement-destination for football players who are at the fag end of their careers and looking to retire in tranquillity away from the rigours of the gruelling Premier League.
That being said, it is China which has inflicted a self-goal as the massive amounts of money it had splurged to get the rights of the matches will go down in the drain.
The massive advertisement revenue that must have been coming to the channel and in turn to the CCP will be slashed if China goes ahead with this censoring spree. The advertisers here in mainland China or elsewhere in the world always look to protect their capital and if the matches aren’t being broadcasted, they for sure will turn their back on the state-owned channels.
China is looking to build itself as the next big football powerhouse and for that its investors have started investing heavily in the football clubs. Wolverhampton Wanderers are fully Chinese-owned, while the owners of English champions Manchester City sold around 13 percent of the club to a Chinese investment company.
Most clubs have some level of Chinese sponsorship, while the Premier League Asia Trophy pre-season tournament was held in Shanghai and Nanjing this year. The pre-season friendlies are a big crowd-puller for Chinese football. Football has emerged as a lucrative opportunity for businesses in China.
Huge chunks of revenue are earned during this period and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that the governing body of Premier league might scrap these friendlies if China treads on the path of censoring the live broadcast.
With the rights cycle expiring pretty soon, the renewal might see the Premier League play hardball for the money. On the whole, it is China, which is all set to lose from its hara-kiri decision.
It must be noted that Premier League clubs are by far the most supported out of all the foreign leagues in China. 56% of all Chinese fans follow a Premier League team while 34% follow a German Bundesliga club.
Although this is not the first time that Xi Jinping regime has cracked down on live sporting entertainment. Last year, the Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil had criticised China’s treatment of its minority Muslim Uighur population on social media. No sooner did Ozil criticize the Chinese government, the game between Arsenal and Manchester City was blacked out in the country and Ozil was admonished on Chinese social media platforms.
Recently, the Boris Johnson government decided to ban its mobile providers from using the Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s 5G equipment with effect from December 31.
China has been fighting a major battle with US President Donald Trump over Huawei. And the fact that the UK, which had for long been reluctant to go against China, has now finally taken Washington’s lead is hurting China a bit more than it had anticipated.
In addition to the Huawei ban, the UK has also criticized China heavily for bringing the controversial National Security bill in Hong Kong which is aimed at culling the autonomy and freedom of Hong Kongers.
The UK has banned arms sales to Hong Kong, suspended its extradition treaty with the city and invited as many as three million Hong Kongers to apply for citizenship in the U.K. China has accused the U.K. of acting as a “catspaw” for the Trump administration and foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters this week that London should halt its “wrong words and actions.”
Things have escalated quickly for Xi Jinping in the UK. For China, it is now hard to believe that less than five years ago, Xi Jinping was sharing a beer pint with former UK Prime Minister David Cameron at a pub in the English county and then taking a selfie with Manchester City striker Kun Aguero.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 23, 2015
As Premier League is the most popular foreign league in China, a total blackout by CCP could invite backlash from the Chinese citizens who are already disgruntled with the Xi Jinping regime.
If China censors the broadcast of the remainder of the matches on Sunday then a new chapter of animosity will be added in the feud between China and the UK and Beijing is set to lose a lot. VAR might not have been that popular in the league but China surely needs to review this one.