London: Chinese state television is taking English Premier League football matches off the air, bringing the lucrative world of professional football into the increasingly fraught relations between Beijing and the UK.
CCTV, which has the rights to broadcast Premier League matches in China, won’t show the remainder of the current competition round. Wednesday night’s match between newly crowned champions Liverpool and Chelsea wasn’t aired as planned. The final round of matches this season, slated to be played this Sunday are no longer included in CCTV’s programme schedule.
The move comes amid a deterioration of ties between the two countries in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government banning telecommunications giant Huawei and opposing the new security law imposed in Hong Kong. The UK and the US — which has also been taking a more confrontational stance with China — have discussed creating a coalition of countries to counter Beijing.
This wouldn’t be the first time competitive sports has been brought into geopolitics. Last year, CCTV dropped coverage of NBA matches after a team official made comments supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Officials at CCTV and China’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, while a representative at the British Embassy in Beijing declined to comment. The move didn’t appear to extend to streaming platforms, with the Liverpool-Chelsea match aired on Chinese video app PPTV.
CCTV’s action “is symbolic of what else could come following decisions around Hong Kong and Huawei,” said Mark Tanner, founder of Shanghai-based research and marketing firm China Skinny.
Tensions between the UK and China have been building for a while, with the future of Hong Kong — a former British colony — being the main flash point. The Hong Kong security law, which includes life sentences for crimes such as separatism or subversion, has snuffed out almost all mass protests and is threatening safeguards and freedoms that the city was guaranteed at least until 2047 as part of the handover agreement.