German Bundesliga club FC Cologne has pulled out of a deal to run a football academy in China, but said it remains interested in co-operation with Chinese partners.
The club also distanced itself from remarks by former president and current fan council leader Stefan Mueller-Roemer that human rights were not being respected in China.
Cologne had previously agreed to run a school for young footballers in Shenyang, northeast China, in a deal worth $2m (€1.8m). The academy was linked to a 2016 ‘knowledge transfer agreement’ around football between the German and Chinese governments.
Agence France-Presse reported that FC Cologne’s current president Werner Wolf said of the project: “we have decided not to continue the project… due to the current sporting situation.” The newswire reported he said a reevaluation of “resources and priorities” was behind the move, and “Other forms of possible co-operation, for example sponsoring from Chinese companies, hasn’t been ruled out.”
Wolf also said that scathing remarks about China made by former president Mueller-Roemer to local newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger were a “private opinion” and did not reflect the club’s stance.
Mueller-Roemer said Cologne should not be doing business in China. He said “human rights are massively disrespected” in the country and that “China wants to suck out our sport know-how, like they’ve been doing in business for 20 years, because some of our business leaders are totally naive”.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the comments were “a bunch of nonsense.”
The statements are the latest in a series of tense encounters between Western rights-holders and China. Earlier this week, Arsenal star Mesut Özil caused a storm with social media posts criticising China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim population. This followed controversy in October after Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey’s tweets in support of the Hong Kong protests.