Frankfurt am Main (AFP) – German Bundesliga club FC Cologne has pulled out of a football academy in China, with one senior official saying “human rights are massively disrespected” in the country.
Cologne had been slated to run the school for young footballers in Shenyang, northeast China, for 1.8 million euros ($2.0 million).
Club president Werner Wolf said in a statement Wednesday “we have decided not to continue the project… due to the current sporting situation,” saying a reevaluation of “resources and priorities” were behind the move.
“Other forms of possible co-operation, for example sponsoring from Chinese companies, hasn’t been ruled out,” he added.
But Stefan Mueller-Roemer, a former club president and now head of the fan council, told local newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger that “we don’t need China in sport.”
“Human rights are massively disrespected in China,” Mueller-Roemer charged, saying the country has “built up a worse total surveillance state than (“1984″ author) George Orwell could have conceived.”
The academy was part of a 2016 deal between the German and Chinese governments and was to continue until 2021, focusing on knowledge transfer between the two countries.
“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,” Mueller-Roemer said.
Club chief Wolf said Mueller-Roemer’s comments were a “private opinion” that did not reflect the stance of the side, whose home city is twinned with Chinese capital Beijing.
Cologne’s decision to cancel the China venture follows a media storm around German Arsenal player Mesut Ozil, who harshly criticised China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.
China has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang, where critics say Uighurs are pressured to renounce Islam, support the ruling Communist Party, and integrate with China’s majority Han culture.
Ozil, a German of Turkish descent, had tweeted in Turkish: “Korans are being burnt… Mosques are being shut down… Muslim schools are being banned… Religious scholars are being killed one by one… Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps.”
Chinese state television dropped plans to broadcast Arsenal’s match last Sunday, and discussion of the topic is now heavily censored in China.
Ozil has even been removed from Chinese versions of popular mobile game Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).
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