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China Digest | Human rights row over Liverpool’s Tibet Water partnership

China Digest | Human rights row over Liverpool’s Tibet Water partnership

By: Mark Dreyer

Liverpool FC fans at the club's Premier League Asia Trophy game against Leicester City in July (Getty Images)
10 Oct 2017
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Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

Human rights row over Liverpool’s Tibet Water partnership

English Premier League club Liverpool FC has drawn some unwanted criticism this week thanks to its sponsorship deal with Chinese firm Tibet Water Resources, which became the club’s official water partner in China in July.

Activist group Free Tibet now claims the club is effectively condoning human rights abuses stemming from China’s occupation of Tibet in 1950 as a consequence of the partnership. However, given that Free Tibet campaign manager John Jones concedes that there is no suggestion Tibet Water is directly involved in human rights abuses in the region, this seems to be an example of an activist group hitching itself to a high-profile target to further its agenda.

The problem for Liverpool is that it’s working: with coverage now in the FT, CNN and elsewhere, pressure will be building on the club to address the issue.

While inaction will inevitability draw more criticism, action could also be fatal. The vast majority of Chinese people are supportive of their government’s policy on Tibet, so dropping the sponsorship deal due to activist pressure from overseas could see a massive backlash from fans.

Alibaba nets Pac-12 distribution deal

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has signed a wide-ranging partnership deal with the Pac-12 Conference that will see 175 live Pac-12 Networks events and 100 hours of original programming distributed annually through 2024 by Alibaba, some via its video-sharing service Youku Todou.

All the top collegiate sports are covered by the deal, including American football, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, gymnastics, swimming, and track and field.

Alibaba has also extended its sponsorship of basketball’s annual Pac-12 China Game through 2020. However, tickets for this year’s game, which will see UCLA play Georgia Tech on November 11, are still not on sale.

The previous two games were staged in Shanghai’s impressive Mercedes-Benz Arena, which recently hosted an NBA preseason fixture between the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, this year, the Pac-12 has been forced to play elsewhere due to another event at the arena that day to celebrate ‘Singles Day’, China’s annual online shopping extravaganza. The hosts of that event? Alibaba.

Alibaba rebuffs Tsai Nets rumours

Meanwhile, Alibaba says vice-chairman Joe Tsai is not in talks to buy a stake in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, despite a Reuters report which cites two sources saying Tsai is in advanced discussions to do just that.

Tsai’s interest in sports is well known, with the executive acquiring a National Lacrosse League (NLL) expansion franchise, which will be based in San Diego from the 2018-19 season, for $5m in August. He’s also got the funds necessary to buy all or part of an NBA team, given his reported net worth of $11.4bn.

Hong Kong PGA event is secured

Golf’s PGA Tour China is back in business with news that the Clearwater Bay Open in Hong Kong will proceed in November.

Dealings on the Chinese mainland continue to look uncertain, though, with “relationship complexities” being blamed for the China-based tour grinding to a halt this year after three successful seasons.

Plenty of professional golf is still taking place in China this year, with two European Tour events played in April and the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament returning later this month.

However, the PGA Tour appeared to lose out as the China Golf Association hosted a 15-tournament China Tour on its own this year, having previously co-hosted with the PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, as Chinese golfers – and PGA Tour China graduates – Zhang Xinjun and Dou Zecheng last week became the first Chinese players to join the PGA’s main US-based Tour as full card-carrying members, the Tour has named Chinese telecoms company ZTE as its first official smartphone partner in a three-year deal.

ZTE has previously sponsored golf tournaments and also sponsors Korean-Kiwi golfer Danny Lee.

China banned from weightlifting over doping

China is among nine nations to have received a one-year ban from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), meaning its lifters will miss the World Championships, as well as next year’s Summer Youth Olympic Games, Junior World Championships and Asian Games.

All nine nations had at least three positive samples in re-testing from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

China’s busted trio – Cao Lei, Chen Xiexia and Liu Chunhong – all won gold medals at the Beijing Games in various weight divisions in women’s weightlifting. All three were stripped of their titles, meaning that China in fact won 48 golds, not 51, as was celebrated at the time.

Formula E plots mainland return

China will lead the electric car revolution, according to Formula E boss Alejandro Agag, who says he is targeting a return to the Chinese mainland for his electric car championship.

Beijing hosted the opening races of both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Formula E seasons, though that was moved in 2016-17 to Hong Kong, which will also open the 2017-18 campaign with two races in early December.

China wants 12% of all new vehicles to be electric by 2020, with Agag saying he now wants to secure a race on the mainland in addition to the Hong Kong event.

Inter targets overseas fans with TV revamp 

Serie A club Inter Milan has rebranded its television channel as part of a major revamp of its in-house media operations, in part to better serve its overseas fans.

Inter, which is owned by Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Suning, said overseas content will be broadcast in China via online streaming platform PPTV, which is majority-owned by Suning.

Meanwhile, the club has also announced Gaga Milano as its official timekeeper.

Also this week...

Further reading...

The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007. 

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