China’s Olympic teams lukewarm about leaving Western sponsors

Published (HKT): 2021.04.14 14:05

Calls on Chinese cyberspace and state media to boycott foreign apparel brands have received a lukewarm response from national Olympic teams, which are still spotting the logos of their sponsors more than three weeks after a controversy erupted over Xinjiang cotton.

With around 100 days to go before the Tokyo Olympics, the sports industry in China shows no signs of following show business celebrities to cut ties with big brands from the West, thanks to the hefty sponsorships for national athletes and teams.

On Tuesday, China defeated South Korea 4-3 on aggregate in a female soccer qualifier playoff for the Games, with the Chinese players decked out in Nike jerseys.

Nike is the main sponsor for China’s national teams of soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, and athletics. The American company has also signed up well-known sports stars including basketball players Yi Jianlian and Guo Ailun.

It signed a 12-year, 1 billion yuan contract in 2015 with the national soccer team that would run until the end of 2026. On Jan. 8 last year, a contract with the Chinese Athletics Association was renewed in advance for another 12 years, which would cover the 2024, 2028 and 2032 Olympics and other major international competitions.

The company in 2018 also renewed contracts with the national men’s and women’s basketball teams for 10 years, a deal for which

the amount of sponsorship was left undisclosed.

The German apparel brand Adidas, meanwhile, has a close partnership with the national women’s volleyball team.

These close ties appear to be holding up against efforts by Beijing’s propaganda agencies to whip up nationalistic fervor and excoriate Western fashion labels for eschewing Xinjiang cotton over alleged human rights violations in the far western Chinese region.

Some commentators have urged members of the public “to give the sports industry more room and patience” in light of the sports associations’ lack of boycott moves, which has upset Chinese internet users.

Retail chains’ partnerships with sports associations were more complicated than those with entertainment celebrities, as the sponsors would also be engaged in the design and production of clothing and equipment for professional athletes, sports news journalist Chang Bin was quoted as saying on a web forum.

Wu Min, senior partner of law firm Dentons in Shanghai, said that terminating a sponsorship contract was not the only way to show the stance of a sports player. He acknowledged that it was a challenge for the sports industry to respond to the boycott calls.

Generally speaking, support provided to athletes were classified into sponsorships in cash and in kind, Dr Lobo Louie, associate professor of the physical education department at Hong Kong Baptist University, told Apple Daily. Compensation would be warranted according to the terms and conditions of the contract if one side wanted to end the partnership, Louie added.

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